J. X. NULUD
Published by J.X. NULUD at
Copyright 2017 J.X. NULUD
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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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
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.”
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!” and they entered the cinema, hand in hand.