A romantic thriller in 15 chapters.
This is a story of a maiden in moral hazard. For some, no Apocalypse is needed to deliver them into a corrupt, dog eat dog world. Blen, is one such. Surrounded on all sides by dangerous people, facing the ultimate sacrifice to secure the future of her family, with cunning and artifice she employs her opponents' weapons to defeat them. But, not without highly erotic misadventures along the way.
Chapter 1. "Wala."
The Land of Wala. Poverty and Provincial life. Amor. Precious. Girlie. Blen. Jesusa. Political backdrop. Mama Mutia and recruitment.
In the Land of Wala, with money you are fireproof, without it you are lost; without the love and protection of family you are nothing at all.
The rice seeds had germinated in the incubation fields and it was time to transplant these seedlings into the rice fields; backbreaking work, done by hand. Deep in the Land of Wala, on one of the hundreds of islands in the Visayan Sea, a group of day labourers dressed in straw hats secured by scarves, and cloaks made from palm leaves, their only shelter from the oppressive sun, sat down beside a paddy to eat a bowl of rice provided by the farmer.
Five teenage girls, bare foot and thin as sticks, settled in the shade of a palm.
Precious, Girlie and Amor were cousins, and Jesusa was the younger sister of Blen. Snub nosed, high cheeked and tanned, in the Malay way, the girls' shining black hair, never cut, hung to their waists, except for Blen's, whose hair was waved, voluminous, and fell only to her shoulders.
In a land where four out of ten lived on less than a dollar a day, they had the misfortune to count as unfortunate even to the unfortunate, each member of their families consuming about thirty cents of the world's abundance daily. Today, these girl-labourers would eat well; bellies full of sticky rice would be their payment for a long day labouring under the sun.
At first, they squatted silently, busy filling their mouths with balls of rice, then, as hunger waned, they gossiped.
"Lola says there is another bomb in Mindanao," said Girlie, the chatterbox, knowing this would excite Blen.
Precious, their emotional leader seeing a provocation, attempted to blunt it. "But, maybe there is no damage?"
"It is bad. There is five dead and ten injured, just bystanders, they try to blow up Ampatuan," asserted Girlie.
Blen's face coloured with anger. "Ampatuan!" She hurled a rock at some unseen target and watched it splash harmlessly in the paddy. "Where is God? Five innocents are dead and Ampatuan live. Why do God protect the rich and abandon the poor?"
"Maybe there is no God," said Amor, seeking to explain this injustice to her close friend, "maybe it is just a poor guy with a bad aim?"
Blen wilted a little. "Then, if there is no God, who is to rescue us?"
"Do not blaspheme." Precious now sought to smooth this wrinkle in the fabric of divine providence. "And do not despair, that is the great sin. God will help those who will help themselves."
Blen sat up abruptly, her face hard, her voice harsh. "That is why he protect Ampatuan. Ampatuan help himself. He help himself to our land, our crops, our labour and our votes. That God is the God of thieves. Why do we have that God? He is not in other lands. He is not in America."
"I want to live in California," said Jesusa, with child-like indifference allowing her dream to intrude on others' reality. "When I grow up, I will go in America."
Hearing this, Blen felt the weight of familial responsibility crush down on her shoulders. At fourteen, Jesusa was working in the fields for a meal. How could she, Blen, who was unable to provide for herself, provide a future for her little sister? It was time to enrol in school for the next school year, but there was no money to enrol in even the state schools, so Jesusa would go another year without formal education.
"Florita have buy a fridge." Girlie presented her second morsel for consideration. "She have electric now, and she buy appliances."
Behind her long, dark lashes, Amor's eyes brightened with anticipation. "Maybe we will go over and watch TV tonight."
"See, God help some of us," said Precious, vindicating her belief in a divine plan.
Girlie garnished her morsel. "It is her daughter, Marisol, sending a remittance. She have gone in Angeles. She work in the bar."
The group fell silent as they considered the implication for themselves. Remittances came from either the vaunted Filipino Overseas Worker, working as maids in Saudi and Hong Kong, or the bar girls working in Angeles City. The girls knew they were unqualified even to work as maids.
Girlie, Amor, Precious and Blen were eighteen, the watershed age for the girls of their barangay. If they were unable to change the direction of their lives now, the opportunity would pass, and they would become unwanted dependants, vulnerable to exploitation by anyone able to offer them a meal.
Girlie again broke the silence. "She is to be marry."
"Marisol?" queried Precious.
"Yes, she is to marry with a German guy, she will go to live in Germany this year."
"I like to marry with a foreigner," said Blen.
The girls laughed.
"We all like to marry with a foreigner," Precious chided. "We must all pray that God send us our foreigner."
Blen had little faith in prayer unsupported by action. "God help those who help themselves," she reminded Precious. "We must find our own foreigner."
The 'Land of Wala', is what poor Filipinos call their homeland. 'Wala' means 'the absence of', or 'nothing'. If one desires something, and there is none, the response is 'wala'. For far too many Filipinos, whatever they wish for, the answer is 'wala', thus, this word accurately describes their land, where everything seems absent. No shoes. No clothes. No food. No education. No job. No money. No future. No hope. The only prospect is a life of destitution, mitigated solely by the love and support of family.
The last President of the Land of Wala was now on trial for Plunder. As a popular action-movie actor, in a country where the rural poor vote for the dreams they see in the movies, 'Erap' Estrada's high recognition factor had made him a shoo-in for the presidency. In office, his binge drinking brought civil administration at the highest levels to a standstill, and the political classes were so scandalised that a palace coup was arranged.
The Supreme Court readily agreed that intoxication in office amounted to constructive resignation, and the Vice President, in line with the constitution, succeeded to the Presidency. To rub salt into the wound, Estrada was charged with Plunder, on the basis that he had accepted the large bribes always paid to the President by the organisers of the numbers racket, an immensely popular, technically illegal gambling game, available on any street corner.
He was succeeded by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who, in turn, though she had subsequently legitimised her Presidency through re-election, offended some members of the plutocracy. In February 2006, a planned military coup had leaked and been foiled. A state of emergency was briefly declared while many of the plotters were rounded up. So, a few months later, simultaneously, the last President, the plotters against the present President and the present President herself were on trial; Estrada in a specially constituted corruption court, the generals before the criminal courts, and Arroyo before Congress.
Twenty years before, the poor had risen up to cast out the Marcos regime, which had sustained itself in power by the use of Martial Law. Hopes of material improvement through improved government had diminished over the years and, when in February 2006 the 20th anniversary celebrations were cancelled due to a State of Emergency declared to forestall the military coup, there was little surprise, and little disappointment as there was precious little to celebrate.
The poor, who constituted three quarters of the rural population, saw their standard of living decline further and despaired of their dysfunctional political class ever delivering an improving standard of living. The political mood music was punctuated by the explosions of terror bombs set off in public places by Moro separatists in the south, the random assassination of local functionaries by the New Peoples' Army (NPA) in the east and north, and the targeted murder of journalists as a routine part of political campaigning throughout the country.
Now, in June, the rains were about to arrive in earnest. The sun had reached its highest and hottest in a deep blue sky that stretched like a velour canopy over neat water meadows, and the lush palms that fringed the paddies stood green and erect against the hills shimmering mysteriously in the heat haze beyond. This centuries old scene, of order, abundance and beauty, concealed in its detail, misery and despair.
In 1990, the two-year-old Blen and her parents had been resettled in the barangay of Desbilla on the remote island of San Fernando because distant relatives lived there. She and her parents had been displaced as a result of fighting between the Muslim Ampatuan clan and Christian militias. The Ampatuans had swept through the small farming settlement killing all those present. Blen's parents, on their return, had scoured the huts and fields to find and bury the bodies of their own parents and other extended family. On hearing her parents' calls, Blen had emerged, quivering with fear, from the broken water butt into which she had been dropped by her grandmother.
As soon as the bodies were buried in shallow graves, and they had bagged up what possessions they could, the family abandoned its land to the Ampatuans and left for the relative safety of the Displaced Persons Settlement.
Years later, when Blen was twelve, her parents had travelled by boat to the provincial capital to claim some public land to farm. On the return trip, a typhoon had passed. Many small boats were lost, including the one on which her parents travelled. Blen and Jesusa had since lived in the care of neighbours, as foster children. The foster parents were dutiful, but the girls were a burden on a poor family.
Now eighteen, with a patchy education reflecting the scanty money available to pay the school fees of forced dependants, working in the fields for her food but bringing nothing home for the pot, Blen knew she must contribute or leave. This meant parting from her one blood relative, Jesusa - but to fulfil her familial obligation of support, she must leave. With Blen sending remittances, Jesusa would go to school - the private school - and get qualifications. She would wear new clothes, would have pocket money, and could mix with any child in the barangay on equal terms. Jesusa, at eighteen, could then go to nursing school, and, from there, to jobs in America or Europe. She would have a future.
Blen, herself, now faced the future with great anxiety. Cash jobs were scarce, the preserve of the well educated and connected. There was only one well recognised route to paid employment for the destitute girls of her barangay, provided they were pretty, young and happy to excite and then indulge the libidos of those who might desire them. For Blen, there was no alternative. When she considered this prospect, it was with apprehension, but not because of the life it would entail. When she looked at her friends, who looked like her, it was with apprehension that her drab, emaciated appearance may make her unfit, even for that calling.
She wished, and wished, and wished, and prayed that this opportunity would not escape her, because if it did, she and her sister had no hope, ever, of anything. If given this opportunity, she was determined to embrace it without flinching, and do whatever was necessary to become the most marriageable girl in Angeles City.
Each year, in July or August, shortly after the start of the rainy season, Mama Mutia would return for a few weeks to her smart, brick house in the barangay . While there, she would recruit a fresh cohort of girls to work in her nightclub in Angeles City. For two or three generations girls had followed this route. Some had returned, as had Mama Mutia, to build their own house and buy rice farms and coconut plantations. Some came with their boyfriends or husbands - foreigners - Americans, Australians and Europeans - who, at a moment's notice could reach into their pockets and pull out more money than some villagers had earned in their lives.
It is also true that, after five or ten years, many returned alone to resume their previous lives. But, at least for that time, they had supported their families, and put younger siblings through school.
Tales of the girls, and the bars, and the foreigners, were part of the village folklore, and news from Angeles was eagerly sought from returnees. Just as war veterans regale en-rapt youngsters with tales of derring-do, the veteran bar girls would regale fascinated teenagers with their high adventures in Angeles. Among Blen's circle of friends, this prospect had been a favoured topic of conversation since they were sixteen.
Who was pretty enough to be chosen? Who could ensnare a foreigner? Who could attract most customers? How could they please them? How generously would the customers tip? How much could the girls send home? All these topics were examined repeatedly, and in depth.
Some of the local girls had boyfriends, and would become rice farmers' wives. Some had embraced a promiscuous life style, and used their appetite for recreational sex as a condiment to add flavour to their, otherwise meagre, diet of life. Though considered attractive, Blen was never considered marriageable by the locals on account of her desperate poverty, having no land, no inheritance, and no prospects. She was a target for casual relationships, but resisted these insulting proposals, and consequently remained a virgin.
By eighteen, however, nature had ignited in her a craving to be with a man that was held in check only by her right hand. Each night, before sleep, her hand would creep down her belly and insinuate itself between her thighs, there to give rhythmic accompaniment to increasingly vivid fantasies of ravishment. Consonant with the teenage chatter, the ravishment was by foreign men.
A month later, on 24th July, having just watched the President make her State of the Nation speech on Florita's television, the four girls sat one final time to discuss the allure of Angeles City.
Two weeks before, some renegade army officers had been arrested, and in their possession was found evidence of a plot to storm Congress during the State of the Nation speech and take the congressmen and senators hostage. This year, an unprecedented part of the population had watched the speech, anticipating that a drama would unfold. Sixteen thousand police and soldiers, however, had been deployed around the legislature, and the speech passed without mishap.
President Arroyo had chosen the economy as her major theme. Her bullet points were:
-There would be more money for education, health and infrastructure.
-Food and electricity would remain affordable.
-Corrupt officials would be punished.
-Funds would be made available to stamp out lawlessness.
Girlie cast an exasperated look at her companions. "Then what is it she did before?"
"It is as before," said Amor reflecting a general cynicism about government, "good words to hide bad deeds."
Blen's face froze with indignation. "There is nothing for us - not even one word of hope. We are forgotten. We do not have electric. We cannot buy food. We cannot pay school fees. We cannot afford a doctor, and we do not have a road. We cannot even pay a bribe. We have no money and we do not exist."
"Then we must get money," said Precious, who remained purposeful, unperturbed by another disappointing presidential performance, "I will go in Angeles and try my luck."
"Me also, I must go," Blen immediately added.
Amor's eyebrows rose and she cocked her head to look sideways at Blen. "You are a virgin. Are you really prepared?"
"Like I am prepared to die in battle, I will flinch at nothing. If I do not succeed, I will hope for death."
The other girls exchanged glances, impressed by Blen's unexpected resolution.
Amor, who would have been to content to live in a wooden hut and raise kids with a humble farmer, betrayed resignation rather than resolution. "I have no boyfriend; I suppose I must go too. Here, I cannot even be a labourer's wife."
"I want to be fucked by a guy who will marry me," said Girlie, who had cast her bread liberally on the water, but hooked no fish, "Here, if I give a guy his pleasure, he does not love me, and he does not make a gift, it is joy for joy only."
Precious was under no illusion about the nature of the life she and her friends were choosing. "Maybe it will be joy for the foreigner, but not for you. Their joy is not normality only."
"I will submit, like to my husband," declared Girlie," and learn joy in submission."
"It is our fate," said Blen. "We cannot chose our fate, but we must make with it the best we can. We must ask Mama Mutia when she come. If she will not help, I do not know what will become of me. I will have no life."
"She will come soon," said Precious. "We must pray."
When, in August, Mama Mutia returned, Blen and her three friends approached her.
After breakfast, consisting of a ball of boiled rice, and before the day grew too hot, they stood at her gate and called out. Mama Mutia emerged to greet and admit them, as she had many others before. Knowing they would ask to work, she examined them with a professional eye as they filed into her kitchen, picturing them cleaned up, dressed up, and fattened up. They all passed muster.
Precious acted as spokesperson. "Mama, we like to work in Angeles, do you need girls?"
Mama seated the girls, fetched each a cold drink from the fridge, then launched into her well-practised recruitment patter.
She described a new start, as a new person, with a new name, in a new place, and the freedom that would bring to do as they wanted and be their own person.
She described the opportunity to send money home to support their families.
There would be new friends, nightlife, music, costumes, the chance to meet eligible men, especially foreign men.
As familiar examples, she named the local girls who now lived in foreign lands, identified the smart houses they owned in the barangay.
She described their brothers and sisters who had been educated on their remittances, listed the relatives who had received life enhancing, indeed life saving, medicines or surgery.
She listed the fields bought, the motorised ploughs, the boat engines, the videoke machines, and the small businesses launched.
She described the gratitude of the families and the prestige the girls had acquired.
She listed the present barangay officials who had taken this route and returned with new ideas and attitudes to assume roles of leadership in the local community.
When the girls were totally enthused, Mama Mutia hurried through the disadvantages, though, by now the girls were disposed to dismiss these.
They would lose the immediate support of their families, though she would be a surrogate mother to them.
They would need to work hard to succeed.
Finally, the nature of their work would entail some risks. There would be a risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and pregnancy, but condoms would be made available as a prophylactic against both. Also, weekly health checks would be arranged to detect any STD early. In the event of infection, they would have a short break to complete a course of antibiotics.
What the girls were keenest to hear about was the opportunity to earn money.
There would be a salary, but not a lot, most of their income would come from commission earned for sales of drinks.
First, there were ladies drinks. For each drink bought for them by a customer, they would receive half.
Secondly, there would be the big earner, bar-fines. If a customer enjoyed a girl's company and wished to take her out for the evening, he could pay up front to compensate the bar for the lost sales the girl would have achieved; she would be released from her employment for the evening and entitled to half the bar-fine in commission. As the patrons of the clubs were keen for companionship, this could happen several times a month. There was no compulsion; they could decline a bar-fine, so, in effect, the girls could choose their own companions. After leaving the club, what a girl and her companion did would be their own business.
Then she touched upon what the girls knew would be the key to their success.
"You girls will like to meet with a foreigner for marriage - correct?"
The girls agreed.
"But, before you can be a wife you must be a girlfriend. So, many of the guys you meet will want a girlfriend, but they may be here for one week only. You must act fast to hook your guy, you must show him you can be a good wife. You must make him happy, and what make a man happy is passion in his bed. Many customers will seek this girlfriend experience, and if you can give this, there is the possibility of generous tips, repeat bar-fines, expensive gifts, well-paid holidays with your companion, sometimes abroad, and, if you are a very good girlfriend for the guy - marriage. So girls, will you accept to provide a girlfriend experience for your customers?"
"It is like I do now," said Girlie.
"Me also," added Amor.
"And me," said Precious, "but Blen is a virgin."
Mama's gaze snapped to Blen. "Is that correct?"
Blen's heart thumped as she suddenly saw this opportunity being snatched away on account of her virginity. "Yes. But I do not want to be. I want to meet the right guy. A foreign guy," she blurted.
Mama placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, her voice becoming light and motherly. "Do not worry. It is not a problem. Many foreign guys prefer a virgin and I will make it my business to help you meet the right guy for you."
When the alarm had faded from Blen's face, Mama continued. "Now, you will all need documents and money for travel and new clothes. I will help you there. I will advance you the credit you will need and you can then pay me back when you start to earn."
"But Mama, will we be safe there?" asked Blen. "Are there bombs? Are there insurgents?"
"There are no Abu Sayyaf," replied Mama, "There are some NPA, but they never come in Angeles City. There is an international airport and security is good. The government protect the tourists because they bring money to the country. And the President is to set up a special Commission to investigate assassinations, so things will only get better."
Blen, who harboured a deep fear of sudden and arbitrary violence, allowed herself to be reassured because she wanted to be reassured.
A date was set for departure, and the girls went home with hope, ambition and expectation of a better future - their lives utterly transformed.
The next few weeks were busied with retrieving, or obtaining, birth and baptismal certificates.
A few years back, there had been a notorious incident when the mayor's thirteen-year-old niece had run away to Angeles, and worked there for nine months before being found and hauled back to school. Now, birth certificates were mandatory.
As a result of the flight from Mindanao and the loss of her parents, Blen was an undocumented person, not knowing where she was baptised, or where or if her birth was registered. Mama Mutia was able to arrange these documents from local sources, but at a cost.
The crushing oppression of provincial life lifted and the final couple of weeks passed in almost unbearable anticipation. Friends and neighbours wished them good luck; the girls forgot their cares, laughed and chatted, and looked forward to life.
Apr 9, 2018 in romance