His daddy died on top of a hooker.
That is what they whisper about my cousin Honey Boy.
A wise ass will bray, “No, pare, he was underneath the hooker.”
I worry my head over Honey Boy, not cause of his Daddy, but because he studies aeronautics when he is not ringing up pan de sal at The Bread King in Mabini. The Manila Bulletin carries headlines of Air Force training crashes daily.
I never ask Honey Boy if that is his real name. Plenty of cousins have fucked up names in Las Pinas. Common names for a girl: Baby, Girlie, a piece of fruit or day of the week. Guys are not spared: Boy, Dingdong, Bong-Bong. To tell the truth I never dug my name. I was born there and left before any permanent damage could be done. I was the baby-without-a-name for a month.
My father fancied himself a Manila gangster when I was born. Mother told him to get religion or she was gone. He took her seriously and plunged headfirst into a rosary swinging sect of men who sought penance for shooting at people. Mom waited for my Dad to come out of hiding in the mountains with a renegade priest and what I imagine were reformed gangsters who looked like chorus boys from the Filipino production of Guys and Dolls. Honey Boy says that if my father wasn’t such a roughneck my side of the family never would have left Manila.
I tell him he is wrong. Mom saw a fortune teller at a carnival near her hometown in the province who predicted that America was her destiny. Honey Boy kicks the dirt with his left Nike and shoves his fingers into his front pockets. He is not gonna argue. He figures I will remember to send him the Metallica t-shirt he wants if he is congenial.
Honey Boy is seventeen. A mass of gangly arms and legs hung on a wiry frame you can spot a quarter mile away because his hips go one way and the top of his head another. I am eighteen and can barely button my jeans after eating pan de sal every morning. Honey Boy is deferential to me as I am an older cousin and a girl. My hair is shorter than his and he suspects I am not like most of the girls he knows. He even agrees to call me Petey instead of Patricia.
Honey Boy is pissed ‘bout being short. I’ve seen girls look at him. He just doesn’t notice it yet. He’s going to be like all the men in our family, vain like you wouldn’t believe. It is the Spaniard in him. Even though his last name is Swiss. Marolf. His father was a quarter Swiss. Honey Boy treasures this fact. His name was not assigned to him.
The crack about the Spaniards is true. We’re all mongrel bastards, one way or the other. And our way is the Spanish Inquisition, baby. When Magellan named the Philippines after King Philip, he planted a gigantic black cross that is still a tourist attraction today. When the Conquistadors finished the first cathedral in Luzon, they decreed the natives should have last names. The Natives filed to the cathedral and chose names from a list of taxpayers from Spain. The identity and destiny of a clan was formed by an illiterate ancestor with a capacity to point at something elegant.
Poor Magellan. Did he imagine he would die in this heathen-infested archipelago? Cut to pieces and eaten by Lapu-Lapu, the great native warlord whom posterity later named a fish after. Lapu-Lapu is not considered a delicacy.
The heat is stifling. Steam rises from parts of the street patched with tarmac. Students, housewives, office workers jostle your body. I remember to keep one hand glued to the plastic wallet containing my American green card.
Reddish dust dances until your eyes tear. Honey Boy says he has run out of sweat. The exhaust fumes illegal in most countries marks the arrival of the jeepney. BOSS HAWG in giant silver letters above the horns of a steer give the jeepney extra heft. Two pesos buys a chance to climb the long benches and face women in flip-flops and counterfeit t-shirts.
The sun disappears when the jeepney belches us out in front of the sari-sari store. Honey Boy is nervous. He can’t lie to his mother with a straight face. That’s okay. This is what I am here for. Balikbayan cousins look innocent when they want to.
I tap the back of Honey Boy’s head. He pulls a cigarette from behind his ear and tucks it into his shirt pocket. The shack across from the family compound blares afternoon television game shows. Tita Kati tends a small patch of garden. Her sundress is loose and shows the weight lost after the breast cancer diagnosis she received before Tito Raymond’s untimely demise.
She starts in right away. “This dance is cooooo–ed?”
“Yes, Mother.” Honey Boy’s attempt to look honest manages to invoke children in ads for hookworm treatment.
“And your cousin is your date?” Tita Kati’s sharp eyes bore a hole in me.
“Of course, Tita. That’s why we need the car, di ba?” I throw in the only Tagalog phrase I can remember to fit into a sentence at that moment. Isn’t it. Of course.
Tita Kati grunts and pulls something shiny out of her sundress pocket.
She tosses the keys to Honey Boy. He tries to embrace her. The keys are ours.
Honey Boy grins. A skinny little girl shoves the screen door open.
“Me too, I wanna go too.” Honey Boy’s seven year old sister tugs at his jeans.
“Kuya!” Older brother. Sarna hops on one foot.
He ignores her and slams the door. Tita Kati glares at me with her X-ray eyes.
“I trust you darling ko.”
Honey Boy emerges in a clean white button down shirt. Tita Kati is back in the house and looking for her prayer book. She calls out but it is too late. Honey Boy pulls the garage door open. My eyes adjust to the dust motes. Honey Boy struggles with the tarp protecting his father’s car.
“Nobody’s touched it since Daddy died.” A girl’s voice.
From the corner of the garage, Honey Boy’s sister Dara tosses a candy wrapper to the ground. Her long legs are sheathed in tight Levi’s. Honey Boy’s eyes narrow. His mouth twists when he says, “Get out of here.”
His voice echoes off of the garage walls. “We don’t need any spies.”
She is in a fight stance. Legs like a dancer. In one swift blur of motion, Honey Boy’s ass is in the dirt. Dara straightens up, relaxes her fists and runs her fingers through her hair. She dances around Honey Boy and taunts him.
I hold out a hand to Honey Boy. He shakes his head and brushes his jeans. He charges Dara. She swings her right leg into his chest and thumps his back as he tumbles. He is up again and breathing hard. I lift my arms and say, “Tama na.” Enough.
Dara whispers in my ear. “Pissed because I can kick his ass.” She is taller than he is. I would be pissed about that too.
Honey Boy ignores us and finally yanks the tarp off the car. Dara whistles. The car still shines. Tito Raymond must have gotten it waxed right before he kicked it. A cream colored 1982 BMW stares at us. Even the headlights seem to wink. The fog lights are eyebrows and the grill the indifferent line of a closed mouth. Honey Boy opens the driver side door. Dara slips into the back seat.
I run my finger along the raised silver piping on the passenger door. The Manila tabloid reporters had a field day with the headlines. “Corp Veep Found Dead in Love Nest. Salazaar Rum Exec Dies in the Arms of Long Time Mistress, Family Man DOA. Two years to the day of his funeral and the ink still fresh.
The Beamer is the only sign of the money the family used to have. Honey Boy’s daddy had to have a German car. He said he liked precision. The Beamer turns over after choking twice. Honey Boy wipes dust from the dashboard with a rag. Dara leans over the front seat and slaps the horn. The car is in reverse for an instant then lurches forward. The shotgun door pops open. I breathe the scent of new car.
The car purrs. The dying sun is a postcard framed by the square opening of the garage door. The wheels roll forward.
Tita Kati waves and shouts at Sarna. Sarna runs towards the gate as we pass. Religious neighbors who haven’t said shit to Honey Boy since his Daddy’s scandal are startled to see the Beamer.
“Dios ko, Oh my god.” Dara mimics the neighbors.
Shirtless dark brown teenage boys stare at the car. Honey Boy applies the brakes. When they are close enough to touch us Honey Boy throttles the engine and stomps on the gas. They toss a hail of curses too fast and funny to make any sense.
“Infidels.” Dara murmurs. Big sunglasses on her face, she practices lighting a cigarette with one hand. Honey Boy is chasing the sun now. What is left of the day is a half circle afire. Coconut trees silhouettes in blue move with the wind as the car picks up speed.
Day laborers wield machetes and hack open young coconuts by the side of the road. Leather faced women place baskets on shoulders. Honey Boy reaches inside his shirt pocket and finds a cassette tape. Without looking down he presses play and flicks the volume. The drums come up without any warning. The muscles in Honey Boy’s forearms twitch. He holds the wheel so tight.
* * *
[ end of excerpt ]
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