In the Mind of a Manilaman – Yang Shen Book II Excerpt

Vincente Macanaya we met in my post  Manilamen and Mandarins – Filipinos in 1860s China, Part 1: Vincente Macanaya. Now we find Vincente with the Foreign Riflles in the dark of night aboard Chinese junks sculling over a narrow canal toward the walled town of Tsingpoo. The Koronel, Fletcher Thorson Wood, has ordered his small army to climb the city walls and capture the town. The chapter has no narration – only the thought of four men, one of whom is Vincente. His musing begins with Fletcher, then Vincente hears a fish jump, and a rooster crow, and an owl screech – each small disruption briefly takes his thoughts away from the impending battle. 

So, Koronel, a filibuster you are called, un filibustero. What is that anyway, filibustero – pirates, mercenaries, like they call Manilamen? Back in Pangasinan filibusteros are those who would overthrow Spanish friars and drive out cuadrilleros, but you do not overthrow any long-nosed deputies of God or drive out Spanish constabulary. You fight rebels, fight against the filibustero Taiping armies. They would banish Tartars from China…just as would we the Spanish from our country. Imagine an army of Manilamen – new Cuesta or de la Cruz rebels – landing at Manila to expel the Spanish from the Philippines? Sling too tight, loosen it, no just unsling and set against rail; homemade sling works pretty well with saddle rings. Linen cartridges, how many did I make? Time yet to make a few more. Reflects moonlight this silver box, soft click, soft leaf, small nut – larger too strong, get dizzy – pepper tang from betel leaf, clove cuts bitterness, feels warm now, not so kulang balisa, not so anxious. First you were dayo, stranger, banty rooster, then pare, friend. Much longer and you will be bayani, a hero like Handyong, who also fought many battles, defeated many monsters – the giant flying sharks Triburon, the giant crocodiles Baloto, the wild carabao, and won the allegiance of even the sweet-tongued shape-shifting serpent Oryol. Very brave the Koronel, especially Sungkiang, first into smoke at outer gate, squeeze alone under inner gate, arrows fly, musket balls hiss, first up steps into rebel mob. Brave man you, fearless like us, Manilamen almost worship that kind of courage, follow you anywhere, believe you cannot be killed. And no bullet can pierce my body, at least that’s what others believe, invulnerable like the first man, Tuglay – no knife could wound the neck of Tuglay unless fire was first laid on his throat – old legends from childhood, old heroes we never forget. I can only hope to be invulnerable like Tuglay. Iron ball put this notch in my earlobe, not completely invulnerable, eh Vincente? But you, Koronel, it is strange to us that you seem not to like people around you, while we are always many people together and never alone. Difficult to understand someone who is, what? Mapag-isa – someone who is not close to others? I think the Koronel does not understand this very well. Buyo stimulates now, blood is rising, ready to fight. Notch feels huge, inner courtyard steps, bloody steps, so few yet so long, hours to get up those steps. Many died. Monkey Kapit from Lapulapu, mestizo Benicio from Manila, sword Espada from Bulacan. Others too, that Merryweather, more. Bleeding from musket balls, sword cuts, choking blood into my hands, nothing to be done, no medicine, no instruments, no water, nothing. And before them all, Naguapo.

Dalag never jump like that. Eat on bottom, come up to gulp air. Now best time for dalag, rice-paddies flooded, drift small frog over egg clutch, catch small bagyo – typhoon, twist, turn, pull away, ugly like Handyong monster, ulo tulad ng ahas head like snake, slender body sometimes three feet long, wriggle, writhe, fight fiercely, finally drag ashore, scrape scales, gut entrails, cook in palayok clay pot over kalan clay oven, garlic, onions, squash, peppers, juicy and sweet. Little clay oven for cook I told the Koronel – Iluminada said life in pueblo good, simple, live in bamboo hut, thatch with nipa palm, sleep in hammock, drink nipa wine, chew betel nut, hunt boar in forest, swim and fish in stream and ocean, trade for rice, corn, cigarillos at tianggi weekly market. Iluminada made a pretty picture for the Koronel, but Pangasinan was much worse. Iluminada I could help at river town, on Confucius I had shiny metal instruments in my canvas pouch, took out the iron pieces, washed with whiskey, bandaged, send on Ah-shan’s junk to Shanghai. Not at Sungkiang, no help there. Not here either. And the Koronel said we might not return on the canal. If we walk back, how do we get our wounded away? No Ah-shan’s junk for wounded. Cannot carry them all. Shoot some ourselves so rebels do not get them? Those we can take away, who will pay for the care? This is not Confucius, no Captain Ghent to pay money. That’s not a worry – has the Koronel not paid before? He will pay again. Wounded back from Shanghai, crazy Balla, Palaso the arrow, piggy Baboy, one-eye Kirat, not healed yet, wounds can open again, better with artillery, not climbing wall. Should still be at Kuangfulin watching training, not here. Trained six days, only, almost two hundred, what did they learn, need drill – drill drill drill – drill needs time. Not six days. Six days for Spanish friar’s God, more for Foreign Rifles. Now, with no drill the Foreign Rifles climb the wall on ladders, like Paco told us they did the first time at Sungkiang. Climbed east gate wall after the Americans tried to explode the gate, watched the red-haired sergeant and the French sergeant plunge down from wall, falling like sailors blown off a maintop, tumbling through rigging, crashing on deck. Sergeants and others shot away from the wall for no good reason, only because of bobo mayor stupid major. Must not happen here, not now that the Koronel leads, not now that these brothers, these kapatid, follow me. Poor fools trust me, because we are countrymen, think I would not betray that trust. What can I do to keep them from harm, from falling off this wall, from dying in this China? We train, but not enough, too little time. Most are sailors, climb in ship’s rigging, maybe do not need drill to climb ladders. And they are brave malakas ang loob. Still, many will die, as always, no matter what I do. Bahala na in the hands of God. What can anyone do, besides get that anak ng ulupong son of a cobra out of the way. Diyos ko! the bobo mayor commands the guns – he will fire at the wall, right over our heads. Diyos protektahan sa amin God protect us.

There’s a rooster, crowing very late or very early, always early back home, flew up on our little hut, cogan grass thatch, woke everybody, except Lola – she woke the chickens, cooked breakfast, pork tapa, tocino and sausage, camote fritters, fried bananas, salted eggs, rice porridge. Lola and Nanay start bickering again, Joselito and Pepito went early to the fields to get away – what to do when Grandmother and Mother fight all day? Go to sea – Joselito and Pepito wanted to go. Like to have pan de sal with mango jam just now. Crawled down off my plank bed, went outside carrying garlic fried rice with sun-dried milkfish and strong kape barako coffee, thanked the sky for another day, asked a blessing from our anitos, wherever they are. Not there, not in Pangasinan mountains, where I fled with Lola, Nanay, and the children to escape father’s enemies, stayed apart from family in Lingayan to keep danger from them. Living away from family, isolated, alone, hard on older folks. Children too, girls, Nenita, Perla, no school, no playmates. Nanay went to visit, Lola was too old. Still alive? Joselito, Pepito, busy tilling with carabao, planting, harvesting our abundant fields of yellow-fleshed camotes, plowing paddies and taking rice sprouts from seed beds to flooded terraces for planting, always extra rice to exchange in village, even had tobacco, a small plot deep among the corn plants, hidden from cuadrilleros. My Lola and my Nanay never stopped arguing; the heart of it all – grandmother blamed father for grandfather’s death, and blamed mother for marrying father. “If you never married that miscreant,” masamang tao she called father, “grandfather would still be here and I would not be alone.” Both Joselito and Pepito wanted to run away to sea – you have utang na loób I said, like Chinese filial piety, must stay home and care for grandmother, mother, sisters, grow camotes, plant rice, and I would bring money. Brought enough each year for at least part of the next year. Lola scolded, ungrateful child, neglect parents, have no gratitude walang utang-na-loób, but Nanay said go, care for us better by going to sea as a sailor.

Such a noise! There, huge owl, flew across the moon…an aswang – a ghost, a ghoulish vampire? Some change shape, into animals, maybe an owl, search for small children to devour, land on rooftops, put long tongue down into a house where children sleep, suck their blood. Aswang. Evil flying through the air. Who will die? Me with no holy water, no crucifix, no rosary, not even garlic, just shark teeth – powerful magic, protects me, ever since my lance went through its heart, spouted black blood, roped tail and dragged ashore, cut out jaw, boiled down, many teeth fall out, twenty-nine large teeth, tie around wrist. With teeth like these, a shark takes big bites, rips flesh away, swallows it down, arms, legs, devours a human body, same way buso in a graveyard dig up a fresh corpse, huge claws rip away flesh, buso drinks the blood, devours the body, climbs back up into trees, disappears. Shake my wrist, shark’s teeth rattle and click, aswang frightened…maybe. Better than rosary. There’s that creek, on the right, Bean Curd they called it. Too small for Confucius. Tuglay killed eight-million buso with his shining kampilan and with that sword killed eight-million more. If only Tuglay were here to fight the rebels our victory would be certain. No matter what some may think, Vincente is not Tuglay. But many still follow Vincente. What can I do to keep them from harm? Without training, without drill – makes me very angry. We need a big gun, 32-pounder, to blow the gate down, and we have left only one 12-pounder guarding Sungkiang. Should not have to climb walls, too dangerous, falling off the wall, lose too many, die in this China, explode gate with artillery or powder, or swim under water gate, but Koronel say we can’t do that at Tsingpoo, have to climb the wall. Bahala na in the hands of God. Yet, would Tuglay say that, would Handyong say that? One thing is in the hands of Vincente, one thing I can do to help my kapatid brothers who follow – I can go before them and clear the way of as many of the enemy as possible.

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