12 Bakunawa: A Re-telling/One Last Hurrah
The villa wasn't quite vacant when their carriage turned to the corner, and they saw Doña Araneta by the patio, lounging on a splendid, golden Cleopatra couch, drinking tea with one hand, while the other gently waved an ivory fan to-and-fro. Beside her was a boy a few years older than Luisa, who blew into a strange conch shell-like instrument. The Madame, having spotted the oncoming party shut her fan and put her glass of tea down. "Jusko," she murmured, and the boy stopped playing and turned lazy eyes to the guests.
Madame briskly grabbed for her polished cane and walked to Cleone and welcomed her with a small, wet kiss on the cheek. "Hija," she muttered gleefully, "how wonderful to see you. Who is this pretty child? Your daughter?"
"Mon dieu!" Cleone gasped and her cheeks turned pink. "She is Madame LaCour," she said matter-of-factly.
"M-madame?" the Doña shuddered and put a hand on her breast as effect of this unexpected circumstance. "The rumors are true, then? Armand did marry Villaverde's daughter?"
"Yes," Cleone said with a smile. She glanced at Luisa and swept her gaze back to the Doña. "While traveling here, I prompted her about the marriage. In due time she will fully understand what it means to be wife of LaCour."
Doña Araneta had doubts about it and Armand's marriage, but she carried on, entertained her guests as if Luisa were not a child-bride. She called for tea and tea cakes, snapped her fingers to the boy, and told him in a high-pitched, excited voice, "Do play that tune, dear, the one I've been asking you of since—oh!—I don't know when."
The boy nodded, played on his instrument, while the ladies and Luisa sipped on tea and nibbled on cakes. The Doña rested her brown eyes on Cleone and asked, "Are you to take my offer of staying here, m'dear? To be honest, I wasn't quite sure as you confessed to me oftimes how much you dislike the ocean."
"Ma belle-seour, unfortunately, has a keen interest for it," Cleone sighed heavily.
Doña Araneta nodded her head and drank her tea. She glanced at Camila, who busily arranged Luisa's skirt while she sat, and at Luisa. "How do you like the villa, child?" she chirped.
Luisa flushed and shyly said, "B-beautiful."
The villa was marvelous. Built on stone and marble, and designed to look like the pantheon, the villa represented the Doña's enormous wealth and taste for the ancient arts. At the far back was a gazebo and lattices—both covered in yellow bells, calla lilies, and orchids.
Cleone, one to notice anything of beauty, rested her eyes on the boy playing an odd flute. The boy wore fine clothes not seen in any indio house help, had hair that curled at the ends, and bright, sharp eyes. "Madame, who is this child?"
"Johann," Doña Araneta murmured, "I found him by the beach when he was a babe."
"A-an orphan?" Cleone gasped.
"Must be. We couldn't find his parents. I keep him close to me as he's good help, an entertainer too. Just listen to him play, m'dear."
They listened to him, but his tune fell into Cleone's deaf ears, for she never had heart nor interest for music. The little mistress Luisa thought otherwise, for the boy's song beat in her ears like the crashing waves of the sea, of a mewing cat crying for home. She let the song seep into her heart until she could remember it in a hum; and decidedly, she wanted to befriend this boy with the magical hands and flute, and ask him to play for her everyday until he could wash away the growing sorrow creeping into the back of her brain to her beating heart.
By the next morn, Doña Araneta with Johann left the villa; and Luisa grew in the care of her sister-in-law, who couldn't control her penchant for parties and soirees, and flirting with young men, and who left Luisa to her own devices every so often. The little mistress had Camila though, and through her she learned of how beastly a child-bride's fate was; how it was expected for her husband to destroy her body; how cruel Arrie was to accept her hand in marriage for money.
Four months passed in the villa, on the day of Luisa's ninth birthday her father came to visit, the first of the few, and handed her a tea set—porcelain, lined with gold, and painted in blue as a birthday present. He gave it hurriedly and kissed Luisa's cheek chastely. He spent a few more minutes with her, asking of her health and her education with a bored look in his eyes; and Luisa, in return, gave short answers, no further questions were to be asked.
He plucked a letter from his coat pocket and handed it to her unceremoniously, saying, "Do read it, m'dear. It is from Arrie."
She nodded, but upon her father's leave, she threw the letter into a brown, wooden box with all the other letters Arrie had been sending her since. On every birthday, Arrie had a letter for her and she'd hide it in the box above her armory, and she'd wish he wouldn't ever come and take her away; and for some miracle, year after year Arrie never appeared. On every birthday as well, father's gifts became more and more elaborate as she aged—a set of encyclopedias, a Japanese doll, a collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers, a new pair of white-linen shoes with pearl buckles, a silver hairbrush, and a writing desk.
How thoughtful father was, though he could visit her more often, Luisa thought. Father and Cleone, two people of her life who seemed so far away; and how often Luisa wondered why neither of them would take her from this villa and back to the city; why they never stayed as much as a day to see how she'd grown from a child to this young lady.
Luisa grew day in and out; she'd outgrown the clothes Cleone purchased for her from the city; she'd outgrown the pearl buckled shoes father gave. Had they not noticed her hair which swept to her hips, or the curves and chest she'd develop?
Oh, but surely they couldn't notice, for neither of them barely looked at her and paid her much attention. They failed to see how much of a beauty she was—brown, expressive eyes, a button nose, and rosebud lips. Cleone failed most, for she'd forgotten to guide Luisa once Arrie's hard work and money came into their family pockets; for there was nothing more important to her than the parties and regaling her wealth.
By the kitchen windows one morning, Luisa asked Camila, "Am I so forgettable?"
The nursemaid, whose hair started to whiten by the roots, sipped on her cup of tea and said quietly, "You are striking."
"If so, then why do they not come?" Luisa asked with a pout.
"Because they do not know how to love."
"Love?" Luisa cried. "N-nobody loves me, is that it?"
"Perhaps," Camila sighed, for she had grown tired of this trivial chat from whence Luisa was young. It never crossed her mind that she knew not of the answers to Luisa's questions, and couldn't accept that she knew only a little.
Looking across the kitchen island, she watched Luisa's pretty face turn red in a flash and how tears flooded her eyes; and in a calming thought she realized she didn't care, for she had also grown tired of this little miss, of this villa, of the sound of the sea.
Luisa scrubbed her face and ran from the villa to the old cottage, where she stayed in many years ago. She pushed the door open, when the knob didn't budge she threw a stone to a window, kicked the glass, and climbed through it.
The scent of mold and dust permeated the air in the cottage. The cottage was bare and dark—an empty shell of what it could have been. Luisa sat on a corner with her knees up and her arms around them. Definitely, she felt as cold and stripped as this old building with the shattered window, but her tears, though, they flooded her eyes, wouldn't flow; and after years, she'd finally wondered of Arrie, her estranged husband; and if ever he'd take her away; and if he did, would she be as defiant as when she was a child?
The sound of wheels roused her senses. Could it be father? Impossible. His visits were limited to her birthdays. Cleone perhaps? Far-fetched, for Cleone told her she'd be visiting some time next month. Then who could have come?
An embodied, stern voice from outside said, "The window!"
Quickly, Luisa jumped to her feet and shoved the door open. She stood by the door frame, her hand on the knob, and her eyes clapped with the greenest of eyes she'd seen. A gentleman, she thought. She dropped a curtsy, remembering her manners, and greeted the stranger with a soft, "How do you do? I used to live here."
"Mon dieu!" the stranger gasped, and Luisa's blood turned cold. "Cherie, mon enfant!" he stuttered and laughed happily. He brushed the dust off her cheek and gave it a chaste kiss. "M-mademoiselle, 'tis you?"
"Tis I?" Luisa repeated in a sob. How she wanted to wash the cheek he'd touched with hot oil.
"Do you not remember me? I-I am A-Armand LaCour, your neighbor."
Armand, Arrie, he had grown tall, his shoulders broadened, and the bird-face had finally turned to that of a man's. His tan skin hid his freckles, the hooked nose, miraculously, straightened, save for a bump on the bridge, and the eyes, though still small and beady, shone like two bright suns.
"Y-yes, my h-husband…?" her voice grew quiet. She watched as how Arrie's face turned red, then purple, and, in a rush, he slapped his mouth, turned his back, and faced the crashing sea.
Arrie ran back to his carriage and returned to Luisa with a bouquet of white lilies. Luisa grabbed the flowers by the stem, threw them to the ground, and stomped on the poor things. Her chest throbbed and her whole body was hot with anger. She poured all those years of neglect, of fear into those crushed, pretty flowers.
"How can you do this?" she screamed at Arrie, whose eyes were wide in surprise. "Flowers will do no good!"
M. LaCour kept silent; and in that single moment, when his eyes clapped with hers, and how he watched as Luisa's face turned red and act so unladylike, his heart thumped for a second, for she was unlike his mother and his sister, and the ladies in Paris and India.
Luisa shoved pass M. LaCour and ran back to the villa, failing to notice along the way was a carriage, which parked by the villa's entrance.