Excerpt for The Curtain Call by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Curtain Call

J. X. NULUD


Published by J.X. NULUD at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 J.X. NULUD


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DISCLAIMER

Although I have drawn my emotions from my experiences, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

























The Curtain Call


The crowd stood and erupted in cheers and red roses thrown at the stage as the play concluded. Antonio was one of them, he would chance upon the Metropolitan Theater when his weekend pass is approved by the military. It was a Thursday night, he was off duty and he had saved a few pesos from his month’s salary to treat himself to a front seat, it was his birthday. He always loved watching plays, not because he wanted to become an actor, but he liked the idea of being immersed in the arts and become swallowed in another world, far from guns and daily morning parades in the fields of Intramuros where he was stationed among the Philippine Scouts.

The cast was introduced one by one and the crowd applauded the main cast, and people started leaving when the extras were being introduced. But Antonio stayed, he thought the supporting cast also needed to be recognized for they too had worked hard for their roles. And when it was time for the ones who had costumes on, more people had filed out, but Antonio was undeterred, he thought that people could be so cruel sometimes. He stayed until the last role was called - it was the big blue bird, who only had one scene in the entire play, and that was to be shot and pulled right away, a very minor role.

When the bird removed its mask, Antonio stood still, he couldn’t applaud. As he stood the curtain had closed and the house lights opened, and the show was finally over. It was a stormy night - the gust was violent and he waited out the rain to pass through along with the other audience at the arcade of the theater. Among the cigarette smoke he saw the blue bird again. This time he had already gathered himself. He squeezed among the crowd trying to get to close.

“Hi, how are you?” Antonio had uttered.

“Well, I’m stuck here as everyone else, and I’ve got this big costume to bring with me, so it’s not a good night so far.” She replied.

“Shouldn’t you just leave it at the theater?” Antonio uttered another question, obviously trying to start a conversation.

“Turns out I damaged this big old costume and since I’m an extra, the costume head told me to fix it myself or he’ll charge me for the repair. Can you believe that, charge me for the repair, it’s not even beautifully made!” she vented out. “The last time he charged me, I had to borrow a few pesos from my brother just to make it through the month.” She added.

“Well that’s not fair at all, I suppose you are good in sewing, that’s a pretty big tear.” He held the costume, examining it like it was dead poultry.

“Oh I’m the best, sewing is my day job, I wonder where would I be if I only worked as an extra in this theater. Someday that costume dresser will make me one of those beautiful gowns, and it will be my name outside and in the bills, someday!” she said, almost in a scream.

The rain had already stopped and the crowd had dispersed and they were the only ones along the arcade.

“Damn it! My brother was supposed to come get me, he must be drinking again with his friends.” She looked at him from head to toe, sizing Antonio if he was safe to be with. Antonio looked back, clueless to what she was doing.

“Could you be a darling and walk me to my place? I live across the bridge, just behind Escolta.” She wearily asked. Antonio’s eyes widened in excitement.

“Of course! I would love to do that.” Antonio was elated. “Here, let me carry the costume.” To which she handed over quickly.

They walked slowly along the drenched streets of Manila, they paced the pavement with each careful step, trying to pick up each other’s timing. The city’s yellow streetlights glared brightly on that cold December night. They were midway across the bridge of Jones when she stopped at the middle and faced toward the direction of the river to the bay.

“Golly, look at this view. Isn’t it wonderful?” she gazed upon the moon as it glowed the calm current of the river.

“Yes, it is quite a view.” He replied as he stood beside her, not paying attention to the view but only to her sweet, delicate face.

“I often dream about being the star of that show, it is one of the biggest plays in the theater, it runs annually and the leading lady, Ms. Michelle, she’s held the main role for years now, she never ages and she graces the stage perfectly, I want to be like her someday.” She smiled while she gazed the stars above the sky.

“You could be better than her, you know. You’re more beautiful than her.” He replied in confidence, knowing what he said was true to his heart.

“Oh, how silly of you! You are just being a darling. She’ll always have that role, I am a Filipina, they won’t cast a brown-skinned native.” She brushed his compliment.

“But you can always try for the other plays, there’s always one for every hopeful.” He said, while he cherished the beauty and glimmer of the moon in her eyes.

“But only how many lead roles are there for Filipinas like me? We only get lead roles in comedy for our skin, we Filipinas need to be as white as them to get the drama roles, and I want the drama plays, so I can be discovered and be in a film!” Her gusto was evident.

A flash of light caused their daydreaming as a police patrol stopped and questioned them to what they were doing on the bridge. “The night is wonderful indeed for lovers, but if you will, please cross the bridge already, we have a curfew tonight and you have less than hour to make it to wherever you two are going.” Said the Police Officer.

“We’re not lovers, officer. He’s just being a darling, walking me home. We’ll be on our way soon.” She said as she charmed the policeman, which did little effect.

“Well, okay darlings, move along!” the policeman agitatedly said and sped off, to which the both burst into laughter.

The tall buildings and cinema lights of Escolta had already started to close and the streets empty and they had the avenue all for themselves.

“Imagine this, my name up that signage, people would be lining up to see me at the premiere night. The flashing bulbs of the cameras, the glamour of the red carpet, the clamor of people wanting to get my autograph, oh my foolish dreams!” She said as she twirled around.

“But what are dreams if we do not dream of it? I think dreams are meant to be chased. Nothing great is easy to achieve, one has to endure the journey toward success.” He replied.

“Well said like a true statesman, just like President Quezon!” she commented.

They were near the newly-built apartment when she confirmed her intuition, her brother was drinking with his friends. Her slow steps picked up the pace as she charged toward her brother.

“Enrico! You were supposed to pick me tonight, this is the third time this week that you’ve been drinking with your foolish friends!” she shouted as Enrico’s friends stood up and hurriedly left, trying to avoid the wrath of his sister. Antonio stood still, feeling the awkwardness of the situation. Her voice was so furious that the dogs had begun barking.

“Oh my lovely sister, forgive me, but I am only sharing my latest writings with my friends over bottles of booze. You know me, I am a poet at heart, and it is not my dream to wait at the arcades for you.” Her drunk brother replied in a slur speech.

“Not a poet, but a drunk with a foolish mouth, let’s go before I give you a poetic whipping!” she pulled his brother and grabbed the costume from Antonio, who was awe-struck to her fume.

“I’m sorry for this, thank you, go now before the curfew catches you.” She hurriedly slammed the gate without waiting a reply from Antonio for her brother had begun his slurred speech once again

“Uh, I, damn! I didn’t even get her name.” was all Antonio could say as he faced the white gate of the apartment.

He gained a weekend pass again after a few weeks because he had missed the curfew on his birthday. He spent two weeks in the barracks and it was a relief that his superior took pity on him. He went to Escolta to look at the shops as he needed a new suit and tie for a masquerade ball as he had been asked by his uncle to accompany his cousin to the social event.

“Antonio, why don’t you look around the ties and I’ll look for a dress, father does not like waiting too long in the car, you know how strict he could be, that’s why he asked you because he didn’t want me to go alone that night.” His cousin said.

“I know, I’m not much for formal events, you know I come from a farm in Pangasinan, I am not used to such grand events. It’s cruel, it’s not my place to be there, but since you are my cousin, and your father lets me stay in your mansion on my weekend passes, I have no choice, as much as I want you to be settled with a good man already.” Antonio replied, his cousin was one of the socialites eyed by many not only for her beauty but also for her family’s wealth. Her father was a lawyer and had a mansion in Ermita, near the Manila Bay.

They had entered Heacock’s Department Store and the two had separated. He was at the men’s suit station when he glanced upon the woman he had met at the Theater.

“There you are!” Antonio jumped in her sight, to which she was spooked and almost screamed. She had to take a few seconds before recognizing him.

“My, my, my, it is you, my darling soldier in shining armor from a few weeks ago!” She appeared surprised her cheeks had blushed a little.

“I missed your name that night and had me wondering. You know I also missed the curfew and I didn’t get my weekend pass for 2 weeks.” He shared.

“Oh, so that’s why you weren’t at the theater for a while, I was wishing you would watch again, my brother hasn’t changed, he still misses to pick me up and I had to walk home alone again and again.” She replied.

“Even if I had the time, I couldn’t afford to watch again, you see it was my birthday that night and I saved a little bit to have the front seat.” He shyly replied, embarrassed that he was penniless.

“It was your birthday that night! And you missed the curfew because of me, I owe a lot.” She felt guilty of Antonio’s fate that night. “I should treat you tomorrow, and you can’t say no.” she said in a stern manner.

Antonio had no choice but to agree to what she said. They agreed to meet at a coffee shop near the church of Malate, just about they were about to bid their goodbyes, Antonio’s cousin had come in to collect him.

“Antonio, we have to go now, grab a suit. Oh, by the way miss, he’s very single and you are very beautiful.” His cousin said to which Antonio quickly covered her mouth and grabbed a suit.

“You are foolish, my dear cousin.” He said as they checked out at the counter. His cousin paid all of Antonio’s wear for the Masquerade ball.

“What is so foolish about getting you hitched? You are old enough to have a family you know, you just got a year older, you know living alone is not a healthy sight, father keeps asking me if you’ve already saved enough for a house. You know father’s willing to give you a small lot in the house so you could live with us, you know that you’re like his son, it’s hard for him to have three daughters running the house.” She said.

“No, I haven’t saved up, you know how much I earn in the military, and besides, your father has done enough for me already, I can’t accept his offer, that is too much. I’ll find a place near to your house instead after I get out of the military, I already promised to be his apprentice after my stint here. That is already enough, I know he’ll give me a big salary even if I refuse it. He already has me indebted to him.” Antonio replied. “And also, you know I can’t marry yet, I’m penniless.” He added.

“Oh, what a foolish thing to say! It’s not about money, Antonio. Ever since you came here in Manila, money is the one thing that keeps you from dating.” she started to preach.

“And you are such a hopeless romantic.” Antonio replied. “You’ll still need some kind of money, sure I can charm ladies, but I can’t keep up with it. And that’s what men do, they spend and spend to impress until they’re broke and the funny thing is that the broads leave you when you have nothing left in your pocket, the sunshine and butterflies disappear. Por favor, my cousin, live in the reality of life and let’s not get into this.” Antonio pleaded as they went inside the car.

As the car sped away, Antonio realized he had forgotten something.

“Shit! Good grace of a Saturday!” he exclaimed.

“What is it, Antonio?” his uncle asked.

“Nothing, uncle.” He replied as he looked at his cousin. “I forgot to ask her name again.” To which his cousin laughed.

He had spent a hearty meal at the mansion of his uncle that Sunday and he had dozed off and woke up past four in the afternoon to which he had realized that he was already late. He hurriedly packed and ran the streets of Malate and went straight to the coffee shop. He saw her sitting outside waiting for him looking at the clock. She wore an elegant blue dress matched with a pearl necklace and a gold watch trimmed in silver.

“I am so sorry, I fell asleep, my uncle prepared such a heavy lunch.” He apologized.

“That’s ok, I’m already used to waiting men, I was practiced by my drunkard brother.” She joked. “So Antonio, what would it be? Don’t be shy, you can choose whatever you want.” She invitingly said.

Antonio was uneasy as they went to an expensive coffee shop owned by a Frenchman who had escaped his country due to the war with the Germans. “Gosh, I really don’t know what to choose, I don’t even understand what the menu even says.” He added.

“Don’t worry about it, Antonio, I owe you more than this, and besides, I got a bonus from a wealthy man from Intramuros who had his suit repaired. He gave me a big tip, more than the cost of the repair, that’s why I was at Heacock’s yesterday, I bought this dress and this watch, does it look nice on me?” she asked.

“Not nice, but lovely.” He replied. She had blushed again. “Why don’t you go ahead and pick one for me, you know this place better than I do.”

“Monsieur! 2 Hot chocolates and toasts please, don’t forget the la crème!” she asked the waiter.

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask and I don’t want to miss the opportunity again, I haven’t got your name.” he finally asked.

“You know I just realized that I didn’t introduce myself, forgive me! My name is Mary. I sew in the morning and an aspiring actress in the evening, I am soon to be the lead actress for Curtain Call.” She answered.

Amused, Antonio replied. “Well in that case, Mary, I am Antonio, I am a private in the Philippine Scouts, I am a farm boy in Pangasinan, and the lady you saw yesterday was my wealthy cousin who lives in Ermita.” “You said you will be a lead actress in this play?” he asked again.

“Well, I am hoping to be, it’s a new film and they have a casting call and auditions will start soon. They gave all aspirants a script and I haven’t started practicing yet. My brother won’t move a muscle to help me.”

“I could help you, I mean if I get weekend passes weekly, I could spend practicing with you, I’d love to do that for you.” He had volunteered, their order had arrived and the sweet and misty aroma of the hot chocolate was enticing.

“I would love that! You are such a darling, now I have a partner in crime!” she was excited. He took a sip and tasted the richness of the chocolate, while she prepared the toast for them to share. She had put the crème on top of the toast and had Antonio take a bite.

“It’s delicious! Now I understand why they costs so much.” Antonio commented.

“Vive La France!” Mary replied.

“Vive La Liberte!” the Frenchman shouted in response, with his fist held up high, smiling.

They spent the rest of the afternoon walking beside the bay, the salty air of the beach grasps their skin. The US Navy ships passing through looked like silhouettes of moving buildings emitting smoke across the bay. The magnificent sunset of Manila Bay has not disappointed the people who were watching it.

“Don’t you just love sunsets? It’s such a gift from above, something to look forward to every time you wake up. All your troubles wash away with the waves.” She uttered.

“Yes, it is. Especially when you have such a beautiful woman standing next to you, sharing the same moment, she doesn’t even know how it makes me feel infinite.”

Mary blushed, with her cheeks as red as the sunset. She was caught off guard, but so was Antonio. He blurted out what was in his subconscious and they knew there was no escape from it.

“Funny, I also liked you instantly when you approached me on that stormy night, darling.” She said.

Their eyes, glazed by the mighty sunset, their gaze holding on to each other’s eyes, their hearts a-pounding, they drew closer, and soon was locked in a kiss. He felt the warm, creaminess of her red lips, her soft hands as they held each other. The wind blew stronger as the sun dived into the bay, he held her closer, she tightly pressed him to her chest, they were revolving in their own galaxy, caring for only themselves, impenetrable to the world living around them.

He walked her home again and this time he made sure not to miss his curfew.

“Next Sunday then? I’ll come collect you here.” He said.

“I will be waiting, my darling.” She uttered as she gave her a goodnight’s kiss.

Antonio spent counting the days to see her again, his heart longed for her new-found love, as was Mary. She smiled all day, often being teased by her co-workers for being so happy.

A loud siren woke up Antonio that Sunday morning. He jumped out of his bed, as he stood, a loud explosion shook the house, he looked out the window and saw a squad of planes roar past above his uncle’s mansion.

“The Japanese!” he shouted as he grabbed his cousin and uncle, along with the maids down to the basement to keep them safe.

“All of you, stay here, I have to report back to command.” He quickly said as he scrambled for his army uniform and he ran all the way to Intramuros where he found the Sto. Domingo church ablaze, hit by a bomb from the planes. There was chaos along the streets and he looked across Escolta and saw that it was also hit my bombs. He grabbed his rifle at the barracks and ran out to Mary’s apartment, he was a few meters away when he saw a Japanese plane released its bomb, he froze as he watched it diving down, it had hit the apartment building where Mary was. The bomb blasted and knocked him out as he was hit by debris.

He was in the general hospital when he woke up. He saw his uniform drenched in his own blood. His head felt heavy and gauzed.

“Oh, good god, I have to go, no time to waste.” He said to the nurse as he quickly got up and grabbed his rifle. He went back to Mary’s apartment only to find it had collapsed. He started asking but the neighbors did not know where she was. He was told that Mary’s brother was instantly killed and the police had already taken care of the body. He went through the building’s collapsed posts. And in the rubble, his body felt the chill up to his spine. He picked up the pearl necklace Mary wore, it was bloodied. He frantically started to remove the rubble when military police prevented him to do so and ordered him to report to his unit.

“Oh God no, my darling, Mary.” He was in tears, sobbing as he held the bloodied pearl necklace. And as he went to fight the Japanese, he swore to kill every enemy that stood before him. He was in the defense of Bataan, captured and escaped the death march. He became a guerrilla and took part in the liberation of Manila. There he once again saw the rubble of the old building where Mary used to live. He held the few pieces of pearl left to her necklace, he had kept it throughout the war. And as he witnessed the liberation of the country and the rebuilding of the nation, he never regained the spark in his life. He left the military and soon took the job offered by his uncle as promised, even if his uncle and two of his daughters had perished during the war. Only him and his cousin ran the business and the house. His cousin had already married a Military Colonel and he had built himself a house inside the lot bequeathed to him by his uncle. He had carried all the request of his uncle, he studied law so he could properly run the business with his cousin.

“Antonio, I see you here at home at weekends, in the weekdays you push yourself to hard at work. We are doing better now, you don’t have to carry all the burden. You never smiled again after the war, it bothers me.” She said, while she gave him two shots of whiskey on the rocks.

“You know me cousin, I only truly loved one woman in my life, and God took her away from me. And I don’t even have a grave to visit her!” he shouted as he drank the whiskey. He looked out the veranda and saw the sunset.

“She said that sunsets are beautiful because it washes all your troubles away. It was true once, when we stood beside each other, when I looked at the glimmer of her eyes, when I kissed her soft, creamy lips. Now the sunset only reminds me of that one moment that I felt happy, and it brings back all the pain in my heart knowing that she is nothing but a vivid memory of my past.”

“But my dear, it’s already been ten years since the war. You can’t hold on to a memory, it will soon fade away.” She tried to calm him down. “Come on, it’s a Sunday, come to Escolta with me, for old time’s sake.” She invited, to which Antonio reluctantly agreed to.

They strolled Escolta, no longer an evidence of war, but of progress as the old lights glowed even brighter, and the luxurious cars had gathered in the street. There was a clamor in one of the cinemas.

“You see, going out here isn’t bad at all, a breather for all the work we’ve done, why don’t you go and stroll along and meet someone, and would you be so kind and give this rose to someone beautiful.” His cousin handed him a rose she had bought from a kid selling along the street and left him as soon as she saw her friends.

Antonio was left alone with a rose in his hand. He walked along the brightly-lit street of Escolta, his eyes planted at the pavement. And as he passed the cinema he heard the clamor. He looked at the buzz of people lining up the red carpet and he remembered how Mary dreamed about the carpet and the flashing of the cameras. He froze as the actors began gracing the carpet, his heart throbbed. He remembered all the memories of him and Mary, and with tears in his eyes he held the rose up as he couldn’t hold back the pain that was residing in his chest, at what could have been if only she were still alive.

And in an instant, someone took his hand and held it to her chest. With teary eyes, it was Mary. Antonio could not believe his eyes, was it really Mary, or is the woman a pigment of his imagination.

“You’re late, where have you been?” Mary asked. Antonio could not answer, he looked up the sign, it read “Curtain Call”. It was her, in real flesh, she had survived the war and had used another screen name, and it was her first starring role.

“I’m sorry I was late for our practice.” Antonio replied. Mary’s eyes flowed as she held his hand. She had not forgotten him and so did he as he gave the pearl necklace back to her.

“This belongs to you, I’m never letting you off my eyes again, never.” He said.

“Vamonos, Antonio. Vamonos!” and they entered the cinema, hand in hand.






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