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Visitor
It had been months after Lydia’s initial request before Gorio returned word. Guellerma was in agreement. To date, she still waited patiently nearly three more years for signed paperwork before beginning one morning satisfied. “I want to speak with you about something, ‘Encia.” The eight-year-old arrived back from the spring with their two tengallon jugs filled with fresh water. “I can almost do this without looking,” she boasted, “want to see?” She closed her eyes and confidently felt her way to unharness the carabao. "I believe you,” returned Lydia. She chuckled and removed the clay containers from the sled. “Mamma, my cooker cracked yesterday. May we bake a new one?” Lydia followed her beneath the house to inspect the collection of small toy pots. “We’ll remember to do that this afternoon, but first, come and sit.” They went to a bench where she held Florencia’s hands. “Do you remember when you first came to me, and I told you I knew your parents?”

Florencia rolled her eyes. “I think so.” “It’s important I tell you that your mother’s still alive. She’ll be coming here soon.’’ “Where is she?” “She used to live far away, but now she’s only half a day’s walk from here. She’s agreed to come and sign papers that will allow me to legally adopt you as my own daughter.” Florencia was eagerly curious. “My mother, alive?” “Did your uncle ever speak about your parents, ‘Encia?” “No. I thought they were dead.” Lydia slowly explained to her what she knew of Guellerma’s and Florencio’s growing up in the same village of Balatunang. She cautiously introduced a few details of Florencio's tragic death but assured her of the man’s goodness. “He would have loved you and me very much if he were alive today. You see, we were planning to be married before all that happened.” She went on to speak of Florencia’s relatives from her home village and how the girl’s grandfather, Antonio Cacayan, passed away last year.

Her grandmother, Florentina, followed months after. “I’ve asked some people to help me write down your family tree. It could help you to be proud of whom you come from, so I thought I’d teach you to memorize it.” 42

Florencia sat up straight. “Why didn’t my mother ever come to get me?” Lydia swallowed hard. “Guellerma was quite young when you came into this world. I believe she was confused and needed help. That’s why your aunt and uncle took care of you.” “Uncle Gorio didn’t want me though.” Lydia held her close. “I want you, ‘Encia. Some day when you’re a grown woman, you’ll understand all of this and what’s meant for your life.” Florencia sat quietly for some time. “Okay. May I play at Carmen’s now?” “That’s fine. I won’t be taking you to Maria’s today, so you can find me in the tobacco fields.”

Florencia nodded. She was long accustomed to being placed in Maria’s secure care while Lydia often confirmed crop sales with local market vendors. Otherwise, she was free to roam the grounds while the woman worked chores. “The tobacco worms just keep coming, and I want to help the women remove them. Would you care to join us later?” Florencia wrinkled her nose. “Yuck!” The workers’ method of plucking insatiable worms from tobacco plants and squashing them with their feet never appealed to her as fun. Lydia laughed. “It has to be done,” she returned and watched Florencia charge from the yard. The child’s constantly watchful bodyguard came forth and pulled her back as usual to within her playing boundaries. Florencia squirmed for Mr. English to let go of the hem of her dress. “Back! dog,” Lydia directed and signaled overhead. The animal obediently released his teeth for Florencia to scamper away. Lydia went on to work several hours with the others in the fields. She was proficient at removing worms in record time and then offered

her help to plow the rice paddies along with the men. Antonio assured her that help wasn’t necessary, so she decided to have Florencia help her carry lunch to the men instead. After crossing two miles of cotton and cornfields, she arrived to the Mendoza’s house. The front door slowly opened and bright eyes peered up. Carmen’s younger sister informed the woman that the girls were at school. “They go almost every day.” Lydia grew annoyed and sprinted back past the spring to the village schoolhouse. She arrived as the sixty children from various barrios 43

poured outside at session’s end. “Clean up for lunch at the cooking house,” she instructed Florencia, “I want to speak with the teacher.” The Protestant instructor greeted her warmly in the familiar Ilocano tongue, but Lydia immediately voiced her threat. “If I find that you ever let Florencia back into your classes, I’ll make sure you never teach in this entire province again. To train a girl to think liberally will only ruin her life--your people put on pressure to turn us from our religious beliefs as it is. I won’t have my child learning to read and write your English literature, too.”

“Miss Corpus, I’m not the enemy. Maybe the real reason you’re upset is that your village church services are spoken in Latin without anyone to properly interpret God’s word. It’s completely understandable if you’re uncomfortable with yet a third language--but, the English language is required teaching in the public schools. I was sent here to help if you’ll reconsider--” Lydia turned on her heel and left before the woman could finish. When she sat sharing lunch with Florencia, her daughter appeared sad. “Mamma, I like school. I learned how to write my name, and now I can count to one-hundred.” “I don’t want you going back there,” Lydia said softly. She packed rice, vegetables, and polished coconut utensils into several baskets. “I can teach you everything you need to behave as a young lady should. To begin with, we’ll take this food to the men.” From that day forward, she encouraged Florencia to observe the adults’ work and behavior. She personally demonstrated simple sewing procedures in the weaving-house and cooking and cleaning tasks in their home. When Florencia was permitted to select a piglet from the litter to care for, she immediately drew to the black and white runt. Her affection was abundant, and she spent many afternoons playing with her pet while Lydia trained the dog.

It was interesting to watch the woman tie raw meat to the throat of a figure dressed to resemble a man. Lydia then antagonized the dog until he learned to attack when threatened. For about three years Lydia continued daily to intensively train Mr. English until he became a proficient attack dog. Mr. English remained a loyal bodyguard to the young girl and grew wise to his master’s techniques. With Lydia’s patience, he learned to safeguard the farmhouse in his own manner by growling his suspicion if an outsider approached the area. He would also follow after to wherever the person was headed. The depth of the dog’s comprehension and thought pattern grew highly impressive. Lydia regularly observed him stepping from the 44

stream to stand about in the sun while waiting for his coat to dry. She knew any ordinary dog would have immediately shaken the water from its coat. Another display brought Tuto frustrated to Lydia. Apparently Mr. English had retrieved her ax from the man’s home and carried it back between his teeth. The animal hadn’t witnessed her give consent for Tuto to borrow the item, so he’d gone to personally rectify the situation.

At such time, Lydia wondered if Mr. English might actually believe he were human. Florencia merely trusted the dog for protection until his most recent exploit. She had watched Lydia and Antonio prepare a wagon loaded with fruits and vegetables, but it wasn’t until after they hitched a carabao to pull it to Market that Mr. English interrupted their departure. He growled, baring his fangs and blocked the animal’s path. Lydia signaled several times for him to move, but the dog only persisted in his behavior. Not until she tied him to a tree could the trio proceed. They hadn’t gone far along the village road before the carabao simply dropped dead in its tracks. Antonio gasped, and Florencia looked to her mother. “Never again will I contradict this dog’s judgment,” stated Lydia. The carabao had perished from some disease she was unaware of, but Mr. English knew. It was another ordinary afternoon that Florencia happened to be alone in the house. The dog was tethered to a mango tree, and she was unaware of his distrust because she was singing her favorite song. A stranger passed by him at whom he growled and strained threateningly at the end of his rope.

Florencia just completed waxing the mahogany floors to a slick sheen when there came a knock at the front door. She immediately laid the used banana leaves down to invite an unfamiliar young woman indoors. Shortly after, Lydia returned from her flower garden to discover Florencia and Guellerma sitting together in silence. Few words were exchanged as the two women moved to the kitchen table with Florencia peering from the doorway. Guellerma murmured something in low tone and promptly signed the adoption papers. “Of course, you’ve made the right decision,” returned Lydia. “I didn’t realize you had another child to think of. I’ll ensure that your daughter--my daughter will have a secure future.” That’s my mother? thought Florencia, she’s such a pretty lady. 45

After Guellerma’s departure, Lydia permitted the girl to play with the other children. Then, she strode off to inspect a fence broken through by cattle because it was now mating season.

Florencia walked part of the way with her mother and then dawdled by one of several streams that cut through the two-hundred-acre plantation. Once Lydia was gone from her sight, she ran back past Mr. English to catch up to Guellerma. I’ll see where my mother lives, she determined, and go to visit her sometimes. Guellerma hiked several miles home with the child darting from tree to tree to stay close behind. Little did she know that Lydia kept a good distance behind to allow Florencia to satisfy her curiosity. The woman felt that a brief encounter with her natural mother might possibly provide the girl with needed peace. Florencia believed she arrived undetected at the stone house where Guellerma lived. When Guellerma opened her front door, she voiced a command, and a vicious dog charged out. It immediately attacked, and Florencia shrieked. She looked down to see the animal’s teeth sink deep into her calf. It leapt about wildly while she stumbled from the yard with blood trickling down her leg. She would never forget the woman’s hateful expression. Lydia rushed to assist her daughter home where she cleansed and bandaged her gouged flesh.

Florencia contrasted Lydia’s faithful care all the while with her natural mother’s vengeful actions. I won’t visit my real mother again, she firmly decided. Lydia comforted the girl and propped her in bed to rest until suppertime. When the hour came to wake Florencia, she discovered what she least expected. The child was consumed with fever, and her breathing labored. “Mamma, my chest hurts.” Soon after that Florencia’s muscles also cramped up. I’m not experienced with these things, but I can’t lose Encia, Lydia privately anguished. She quickly rewrapped the wound with a protective covering of moist, green bamboo paste and prayed most earnestly. She knew of nothing else to give the girl besides chrysanthemum tea. Though the brew eased mild cramps, she had no clue as to whether it alleviated general pain. The hours passed slowly with Lydia at the child’s side. Days later she was exhausted and worn but grateful that her prayers were answered. 46

Florencia’s fever broke. More time passed and she grew restless

before the wound finally mended to a scar. Once it did, she was right back outdoors climbing her favorite mango tree. She felt peaceful sitting securely in its crotch while gripping a handmade slingshot from Pablo. His gift brought a smile to her face when she was ill; she now swung her legs back and forth while she popped gravel bits at other trees. Every so often, she targeted a mango and successfully shot it to the ground. Clouds floating claimed her curiosity, and she admired how wonderful it was for them to fly freely. That was before the sky suddenly turned gray. Rain poured, and she tried again to make her way down the tree’s now slippery bark. She quickly lost her footing. “Mamma!” she screamed as she landed on a jagged spear. It jutted up from a split guava tree stump and pierced her thigh through. Lydia drew wood fragments from the girl’s wound and ultimately confined her to bed after an infection set in. Again, she applied the green bamboo paste and prayed daily for her daughter’s healing. She grieved. It was unfortunate that the countryside could not afford the luxury of a local medical doctor. This time around, Florencia’s fever was worse than the previous one. The guava stump, Guellerma’s dog, even images of Gorio and Tarong swept through her dreams. One morning, she asked Lydia if she might be dying. After all, Maria and Pablo’s three eldest children had recently been plagued by some epidemic.

The villagers all sorrowed that it claimed their young lives. Florencia missed playing with Maria’s girls and whispered to Lydia of all the fun they had together. If they were alive, she was sure they’d come to visit her. Now that they were gone, she didn’t care to play with their younger brother, Santos. He was the only child to survive, but she had no interest in playing with a boy. Many weeks passed before Florencia improved. Often when she lay awake, she would listen to Lydia share reports from the village. What soothed her most was the chirp of birds after each rainfall. “You had me concerned,” Lydia confided once her daughter was well. “I wondered if you might lose your leg.” As a child, Florencia disregarded yet another scar and was simply thrilled to limp her way back outdoors. Lydia mentioned the idea of hiring an academic tutor from Manila to fill some of the girl’s time but continued to train her personally instead. She enjoyed the company and love of the youngster and did her best to make work quality time with as much fun as possible. 47

Florencia learned much more about becoming a fitting young lady.

When restricted to play within the yard, she was obedient and stayed in the large area beneath the house. Her pet pig was pampered and bathed daily, and she practiced boiling eatable rice in her pottery over a small fire. It was never a chore for her to assist Lydia in the house or garden, and she even accompanied her to work in the fields if so desired. For some reason or another, the youngster did end up playing alone many evenings until the sky grew dark. At these times, all was calm, and she wondered how the stars stayed put without falling to the ground. “I know someone had to make all that out there,” she often told herself, “and some day I’m going to find out who.” 48

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