After more than 3 years and more than a bit of prodding, my friend Rob added an episode to his series How I Met AJ. This latest vignette was written on May 27, 2010.
By Rob San Miguel
A year after the turn of the century, 1901, a young boy was born in a middle class mestizo family in Manila. Doña Agnes was 27 years old. The boy was her second child and her first son. In an opulent old Spanish style house, one of the last vestiges of the once powerful Spanish elite of the defunct Spanish regime in the Philippine Islands, a sickly boy was born. The house was not her ancestral house. It was once occupied by a Spanish government official but the small mansion was later sequestered by one of Aguinaldo’s generals. The house was later given to Doña Agnes’ husband as a gift.
The baby was in an expensive crib, laden with the finest fabrics, obviously procured long ago from the heyday of the Manila Galleon trade. The crib is placed closed to the large window overlooking the walls of Intramuros. A large gothic style crucifix hanged precariously on the window. The image of Christ resembled a youth in subtle bliss than an anguishing messiah. A cool gentle breeze slithered in. It was half past after the sun rose and the baby boy was still asleep. A half-Chinese and half Filipino doctor had just finished talking to Doña Agnes. Looking at her face, she was still exhausted from giving birth. Her husband could be heard outside talking to some of his compadres, making preparations for a feast.
The doctor informed Doña Agnes that her infant boy was weak. He weighed less than a normal infant should weigh. The entire family should be told and whoever should be tasked to watch the baby should be extra vigilant for any signs of possible ill health. The first day of the infant might turn out to be of a struggle. Doña Agnes contained her tears and put on a countenance of strength. Doña Agnes, after all, was reputed to be a woman of fortitude. At 20, she secretly fought against the Spanish during the early years of the Revolutionary war. Disguised as a man, she fought side by side with the Katipuneros of Bacolod. When her father discovered her rebellious excursions, she was fetched by one of her father’s men and she was forced to return to Manila. She met her husband in Manila. Don Pedro was a journalist and was once a close associate of Mabini. After the surrender of the Spanish forces, she watched in dismay as she saw the Americans marched on the streets of her beloved Manila.
The doctor gathered his things and exited Doña Agnes’ room. Silence filled the room and Doña Agnes fell asleep. A servant entered to check both mother and child. Seeing that both were resting, the servant left the room and closed the laced curtain hanging by the open door. Suddenly, a white cat quietly leaped on the window sill. It was small and its fur showed subtle smudges of dirt. It was obviously a stray, or a runaway cat from another nameless mestizo aristocrat.
I, the cat, looked at the sleeping mother and child. I quietly entered the room and slept under the crib, making me invisible to everyone. No one, after all looked under a baby’s crib. I whispered the name “Jose.” I, on the other hand, had no name. Cats did not (and still do not) have any use for names. The day ended and the night passed and the sun rose again to greet the new day. I woke up from the cacophony of jubilations. The room was filled with aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors. Doña Agnes was sitting on the bed holding her baby boy. Her first daughter, age 3, was sitting on the edge of the bed. Don Pedro was standing near the bed laughing. Everyone was jubilant. The infant not only made it through his first day but he also looked healthier and much livelier. One of Don Pedro’s brothers asked what the name of the boy was, and Doña Agnes softly said “Jose.”
I, the cat, whispered to myself. “Well, Jose. I still got 8 lives to go if you know what I mean. You’d better live life to the fullest. We cats, on the other hand, are a bit more indifferent to life, having nine and all. “
Amidst the celebration, I quietly left the room, unnoticed by anyone. After all, no one ever looks down when a mother holds her baby in her arms. As I left the room, I turned my catty head for the last time and looked at the baby “Jose” for a few seconds. I purred and proceeded to leave the house. I thought to myself, “next time Jose.” I never met “Jose” for many years until the 1920 Manila Carnival, but that is another story my human friends.