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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 ten-
gallon 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.”

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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