PANDEVILLE by Manuel Avenido

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

            Mrs. Brown sat at the cashier’s table with eyes gleaming with emptiness. She was pokerfaced. On her lap was a dog I always heard they call Daisy. She was stroking her white furs with her left hand while her right was holding a pen, but she intended to write nothing. She looked blankly outside, on the road right next to her bakeshop, unperturbed by the passing of the jeepneys.
             Daisy was a shitzu. She was just among Mrs. Brown’s many pets in her house.
I know that she has also this really peculiar cat but I didn’t get its name, it’s not my intention to do so either. The lady-helpers in the bakeshop said he’s Mrs. Brown’s favorite.
             I should know that. The moment the cat rubbed his slender body against Mrs. Brown’s foot, she instantly came into her being, as if she was awaken from a long, dragging sleep. Swiftly Mrs. Brown put Daisy aside from one corner and grabbed the cat and started kissing and fondling its shiny ash gray and black furs. Daisy, at once, woke up from her comfortable sleep and tilted her head up with eyes a little bit misty.
             “Do animals get jealous, too?” at the back of my mind I said. I was just sitting outside, in one of those round tables where customers of the bakeshop used to eat their breads and drink their softdrinks. With an array of breads in different sizes and colors in between us displayed and piled blatantly inside a clear glass casing, serving as a division for the lady-helpers inside the store and the customers outside, I could gaudily see Mrs. Brown inside. I could see her dark, sun-burnt, and blemished cheeks due to the harsh astringent. She was in her late forties and married an American who settled with her in this country for quite a long time already. The neighborhood didn’t know much about the Browns but they were talking about them and envied Mrs. Brown for her instant fortune. They just moved in to the village two years ago and they remained elusive from the people.
             I was bringing with me my yellow dirty sack. It was Sunday morning. Though the sun had risen already to its peak and its scorching heat was biting my nape, I had to collect the garbage from the boarders of Mrs. Romano at San Roque Village. But I had to stop by Mrs. Brown’s bakeshop hoping a customer would share with me some of his banana cake or a lady-helper would dare give me some spoiled ones. I was expecting for a miracle that day.
             The bakeshop was situated beside the gate of the little village, across a barber shop and a massage parlor. I had to decide on what bread to buy once I receive the payment of the boarders. Banana cakes were the best for me. I also adored the cinnamons, German breads, kingrolls, and those purple-colored pastries with buttermelt inside shaped into a yo-yo.
             My mother always asked me to buy pan de sal in this bakeshop. She said the bakeshop would be blest for they were selling breads as big as my little sister’s palm, at their regular price. That could be a wholesome painit for our poor family.
             “Hey! Snot-nosed boy.” I heard somebody inside the bakeshop yelling at me. It was one of the helpers, the one with vibrant colors painted on her face smearing like oil poured in our pan. “You better go away before we lose our customers. Mr. Brown doesn’t like you staying here.”

            I grabbed my sack and jumped off from the bench I was sitting on and left the table immediately. I looked in to the eyes of the helper. She looked back at me. Her eyes were like balls of fire ready to burn me into ashes, and her brows knitted. I made faces to her, imitating a monkey’s and in a split of a second ran as fast as I could away from the bakeshop.
             From a distance, I saw the Browns’ black car. It was huge to me; my friends said it’s called a van. Mr. Brown, an old soggy American with a cocky head, went out from the car. He had this unfriendly face and spoke English very oddly, very differently from my grade six English teacher. He sounded like one of those judges in American Idol we used to watch at night. He got inside the bakeshop and his wife got up quickly as if she was facing a dignitary.
             The Browns went out from the bakeshop heading toward the car. I could see the faces of the lady-helpers and Noy Lando, the baker, showing some hints of pity and troubles. The helper who sent me off whispered something to another helper. Curious as I was, I moved a little bit closer to the car. Daisy followed the Browns thinking she could get inside the car with her owners. But the poor puppy shrieked like a mad dog when Mr. Brown kicked her. Mrs. Brown neither drew any sign of pity on her face on what had happened to Daisy nor took a glance to the poor shitzu, for she was more scared with her husband. They went inside the car and I heard a loud thud when Mr. Brown closed the door.
           The next morning, I was on my way to San Roque Village again to collect some garbage. It was Monday but my mother heard from the radio that we won’t have classes, for there was a holiday that day. “This is a good day to earn a living,” I silently whispered to myself. I didn’t notice how I sounded like an old, mature man.
             I was inside the village and the dogs were barking frantically at me. I remembered what my mother said about dogs having strong instincts and how they could easily notice bad elements in their surrounding; I hoped the dogs were not feeling something evil from me. I hoped they also knew I was there for a cause.
              Few feet from where I was standing, in a lot and bedrock where grasses capriciously grow, I saw a small maya, seeking for its survival. The bird’s wings were crinkled and she laid flat on the ground. I was thinking she was half-dead. Just as I was about to go nearer to the bird, a cat with shiny ash gray and black furs had come to the bird ahead of me. It was Mrs. Brown’s cat. I can see his yellow eyes and thick whiskers. I supposed he was responsible for the bird’s condition. He was checking the bird with one of his paws if it was still alive. I felt some of my blood going up to my head and my stomach sickened. I stayed still from where I was standing; at the back of my head I was tempted to pick the stone at my feet and throw it to Mrs. Brown’s merciless cat. That was supposedly the least thing I could do to help save the dying bird. But I remained stunned. 
For a second, I saw the bird quivered a little. It was still alive. The dogs barked louder and more aggressive not to me that time but to the cat and to its prey. But the cat was a ruthless beast and he was not even afraid of the dogs for they were inside the gates. The cat at last devoured the head of the bird, picked it by his mouth, and left the place like a lightning. My heartbeats stopped for a moment. And I vomited some saliva.
 Two days later, a news shocked the neighborhood in San Roque Village. Mrs. Brown was murdered. One of the lady-helpers saw her inside the bakeshop that morning swimming in her own blood. Police described her like a darkened and rotten papaya. Her body was full of bruises – eyes were swollen and black. Mrs. Brown received several stabs as if a beast had mutilated her. The bakeshop was enclosed by yellow lines and policemen were swarming inside the crime scene. I was among the mob outside, from a distant, curiously watching the scene. Few minutes after, two policemen grabbed the arms of Mr. Brown as they led him out from the bakeshop. Flashes of cameras of the press began to greet the suspect. Mr. Brown was escorted inside the police car. His face was heavy and his eyes were still balls of fire.
 As the police car sped away and the siren wailed like a woman’s cry, I remembered the maya bird laying flat on the ground devoured by Mrs. Brown’s favorite cat.



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