|The Faraway Summer|
|Bienvenido N. Santos|
Bob, I hope you’re right, but I’m not sure. It might not be easy any more for me to get a passport back to Washington, D.C., unless you can fix it up with my boss, you know him, I hope he still has some use for a fellow like me. He might write to somebody at the Embassy. He used to ask me, are you sure, Pablo, you want to go home now? at this time? You might not have easy sailing back home in the Philippines, Pablo. Nothing but ruins there. Think it over.
Well, I thought it over and decided to come home anyhow.
But I got the bad breaks, that’s all. Tell him, tell him everything, he will understand. And he knows you well, Bob. He had seen you often with me. How’s your family, how’s Rose? Your girl sure could cook. Tell her I often get hungry here just thinking of the broiled mackerel and lemon she used to fix for us. You’re lucky, Bob. Me, I got the bad breaks.
You heard of the typhoon. Left me flat broke. I had everything invested on my farm. Now everything is gone, the crops, the tractor, my house, everything. I can’t do nothing here. Been doing nothing at all these past months, just twiddling my thumbs, trying to make up my mind whether to stay and try again or go back to old Mr. Williams in Washington. Fix it up with him, will you? I can sell my land, but just now nobody’s buying. But I’ll manage, I’m willing to start all over again. Or is there someone working permanently for Mr. Williams now? But try. The old man liked me.
Yes, I’ve been to Manila. I remembered Steve. Of course, you do. Steve the doctor. Remember now? Everytime you called him Doc, he’d get sore and say, just call me Steve. Boy, how long ago was that? How’s the housing conditon there now? It was terrific in those days. I had that little cottage on the outskirts of the district near Silver Springs. Say, who’s staying there now? Steve was kind of wandering that summer, not knowing where to live so I gave him the extra room. Boy, he turned it into something special, didn’t he, though? Oh, we had fun, me cooking for him, and you and Rose and some of the boys coming around Saturday nights, and Doc would be taking the blood pressure of the fat ones and their drink-sotted girls, and he’d be telling us lots of things about the Philippines. He looked funny with that embroidered apron around him, as he dried the dishes. He was real good. When the war broke out, he joined, he had to, being a doctor, and it broke my heart to see him go. And I couldn’t go with him. The army didn’t want an old man with trembling hands.
You’d remember Steve. He was nice looking in his uniform. The first time he got a furlough, he comes up to my house and says he had only few hours left and he wanted fun. He carried a big bundle of groceries and I called you up and you came in your car. It was winter, by golly, how deep the snow was, but you came to celebrate with us. And you remember, of course, how it ended. That was funny. I wonder if you ever told Rose about it.
I remember it all now, the three of us in the Chevy, driving through the snow just to get him to a house where he could blow his money and his guts on some dame, he said it was his last fling. And we let him. We stayed in the car and drove around and waited and waited. We got numb wth the cold. We tried jumping up and down, cracking jokes, but no good. The cold was getting us, but we couldn’t leave him, didn’t he say it might be the last fling in his life? After a long time, he came out, and there we were sneezing, quite numb all over, but we were not sore. Don’t worry, he said, I’ll send you a prescription if the cold gets worse. Well, we said goodbye and he sent us cards from overseas. We followed him in our minds, through London, through the fog and the blitz, and how it was on D-Day, boy, the card from him was like good-bye forever. Pray for me, he wrote, and we prayed as we knew how. We prayed sitting in my room with whiskey bottles and stuff all around. I guess we didn’t really pray, we just sat there, thinking, thinking, till the tears stood in our eyes.
And that summer he got back, we were all in a fix. Who would tell him, how could we tell him that his entire family got wiped out during liberation in Manila, and that I was keeping many letters for him from an only surviving sister? He was so gay. The war was over. He was going home. Well, that night I left all the letters on his bed and waited for him. I saw him come, I saw him through the door, how he put the bed lamp on and saw the letters. How he tore them open. Then he knew. He flung himself on bed and no sound came from him. And he read on. Then he was crying. I had to close my door. You see a man cry and it isn’t right. Something’s real wrong. The next day we got drunk together, that is, he got drunk and I helped him home. Then he was all right. He’d stay in my room and talk about his folks as though there were still in the country waiting for him, as though he had never fought a war, as though there had been no war, no terrible things, just peace everywhere. Christmas-like, you know.
Well, after the typhoon, I came to Manila and looked for Steve. Maybe he could help me decide whether to stay and if I stayed, could he help me get a job, or if he said I could go back to the States, could he help me get a visa? It was not hard looking for him. But, boy, you should have seen Doc, his room was filled. Patients. What patients, not a single one of them looked sick, the room smelled more of perfume than medicine, I guess it’s the same thing. His patients were the beautiful people of Manila, and I didn’t feel so good sitting there, like I suddenly got nuts and sat among the guests of Mr. Williams in my work clothes, that’s how I felt.
And when the nurse smiled at me to ask whether I wanted anything, I said, I wanted to see Steve. Steve? she asks, and I corrected myself and this nurse looks me up and down, I was shabby, you see the typhoon wet everything I had and I had nothing much except woolens I could not wear any more, besides, I liked khaki, but this nurse, she didn’t seem to like it or it’s my face maybe. Is it personal, she asks. You bet it is, I said, and I tell her if Steve is busy, I’d wait. So I waited and the patients came in and out of his room, and once I saw Steve push open the door for a fat dame, and I jumped. I was so excited to see him again, but he didn’t see me, and I calmed down. He’s very good looking now, he has put on weight, too.
I waited long, but it was comfortable waiting. You don’t catch cold waiting in a room like that. Finally there were no more patients and Steve came out and told the nurse, well, that seems to be all for the day, and then he saw me. Oh, he said, thinking perhaps I was another patient. Then I came over to him. I couldn’t keep calm any more. O boy, O boy, Steve, I said, and he looks surprised, at first I thought he didn’t recognize me, but he did, and he grasped my hand, and I think he would have embraced me if there had been no girl around looking at us.
He pulled me with him to his room, come on in, come on in, he says. How long have you been waiting there, how are you, you aren’t sick, I hope? You don’t look sick.
Sick? I said, I’m strong as a carabao.
Good, he said laughing, and for some time we sat there looking at each other. He looked different. Maybe I looked different, too.
Then, he said, why. . . what. . . can I do for you?
He seemed serious suddenly, or kind of ashamed. Something must have gone wrong somewhere, a door had closed perhaps that should have remained open, or a window opened, that should have remained shut, I don’t know, but suddenly, I knew something was not right.
So I told him my trouble about wanting to go back to the States, could he help me? He thought the matter for a while, then he asked, in what way can I help you? So I hurried to explain that all I wanted was permission from the right people to go back to America. You should know some of the guys in the foreign office or in the American Embassy, I told him. Oh, sure, he said. So, when shall I see you agian, I asked him. Come back, Wednesday, he said (it was Saturday then), but don’t come during my consultation hours. I’m sorry, I said, I didn’t know these things. Four o’clock, Wednesday, he said. Then he stood up, meaning I got to blow. So I prepared to go, not knowing what to say.
As I was going through the swinging door, he called. He didn’t say, Pablo, he just said, Hey! like I was a stranger, suppose I just write you a letter, you don’t have to come back, save your time, please give your name and address to the lady out there, and the last glimpse I had of him, he was picking up the phone.
Forget it sister, I said, leaving the doctor’s clinic.
You see, out there, they got a custom among the rich. When a member of their family dies, the surviving members pay for an ad which says the guy is dead, how old he was, whom he left behind, and please to pray for his soul. I guess it works. So, I wanted to buy an ad in the papers which says, the friends of Dr. Esteban Hernandez, pray for his soul, he died today in his clinic while talking to a girl friend on the phone. He died without memories. Pray for his soul.
But that would be a crazy thing to do.
Well, you write me, Bob. Out here in this warm country, you do not remember the faraway summers. You do not remember period. I think it is better that way.
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