This takes me to our discovery of the bomba book in the bible. Our barkada plays “church” in the empty Ellinwood sanctuary on Saturday. It’s my turn to be preacher, so I skip to the high pulpit. The congregation of three squirm in the front pew below. We always just crack open the humongous bible on the pulpit and start,
“I am reading today from, ah…Song of Solomon, chapter…uh…4, verse…1.” (I keep place with my finger.)
“How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful. Your eyes, behind your veil, are doves behind your veil….Uh… Your hair is like a flock of goats moving down the slopes of... Gil-lad.”
The congregation shifts and giggles at the goats.
“Your teeth are like a flock of shorn …uh…eh-hwes.”
“Eh-hwe? Ano ba ‘yon?” Bengbeng asks in a loud whisper,
“Your two breasts are two fawns. HuH?”
“Whah?!” My congregation sputters.
“See, see see!” I can’t say it aloud again, so I keep my finger on the words.
They scamper up to the pulpit to confirm. Four heads lowered as in prayer.
“Tama ba yon?”
“Wow, bomba in the bible!,” snorts Bengbeng.
“Walang hiya, Bengbeng it’s da Bible!”
I lick two fingers to pinch the thin paper and turn the page. There’s a lot of stuff about food: honey and milk, myrrh, and honeycomb and spice. We turn back to the breasts.
“Do regular bibles say this?”
“King Solomon is making ligaw!” Bengbeng gets on his knee to stained glass Orange Jesus, "Oh Juliet, juliet...."
“Tanga! Alis ka na, Bengbeng! "Dirty mind. ‘To the pure all things are pure.'’”
Alicia gives her brother a pious whack.
“Aray!” He grabs his ear. But he’s right. “Song of Solomon” is about making ligaw. Of course King Solomon had a syota – the Queen of Sheba.
I feel queasy, since the "Come unto Me" Orange Jesus is peering over our shoulders and maybe does so much like being Juliet. Is it a sin to read this part of the Bible without adult supervision? As we scamper out of the church, I give a last peek to the "hair like goats." Wish my hair would do that.
Is it in all the bibles? Mom’s is in the Airconditioned Room. Feverishly, I chunk through the Old Testament in a panic that someone will barge in. Think, think, how to find it, humming our song of the holy table of contents:
“Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus we sing
Numbers, ta-ta ta-ta and Deuteronomy..
Joshua Judges Ruth, then the Samuels,
First and second Kings and then the Chronicles.
Ezra Nehemiah, Esther Job and Psalms,
ta-ta –tata –ta-ta….the Song of Solomon…” AHah!
The name in mom's book is “Song of Songs," maybe like a cover up. But it's the same book, all about food and body parts then running up hills and climbing walls. Really, the bible is so wierd.
So, is sex holy? If it's in the bible, why don't we learn it in Sunday School?
We don't know much about ligaw, but King Solomon had nothing on Ellinwood Malate Church weddings. Our barkada steals up to the balcony as they loop the pews with white and pink ribbon and sprays of lilies. Then they unroll a thick white cloth down the middle aisle. All the way outside, you can hear the Hammond organ booming dum dum ti dum! The minister waits under Orange Jesus as a procession as glorious as the Queen of Sheba approaches him - flower girls tossing petals, a three year old ring bearer, a flock of bridesmaids, finally a pretty mass of white chiffon gliding over the carpet of petals. The groom and best men in their finest jusi Barong Tagalogs linger like elegant beige birds at the watering hole. The flurry, the dreamy, the pomp, we swoon with it.
But what about the bakla calling “hoy!” loudly across the street to each other and flapping their wrists. They aren't really guys, and they make ligaw. Do they belong in the Song of Solomon? We flap our wrists at each other. “Hoy!” Dolphy makes bakla jokes on TV. Two bakla own the beauty salon on Indiana street. Chito is kind, so I don’t “hoy!” him.
And Dolly our helper. She was kind like Chito. She didn’t scold us and she let me watch her pomade her short black hair on her day off. She goops it up so it’s really greasy. Then she combs it back like a guy, using her hand to smooth it till it shines. Then she washes her hands, tucks her shirt into her pants and puts on men’s shoes. I notice that. “Sige na, Kerry,” and she’s gone. “Don’t go near Dolly, she is a tomboy,” Laling instructs me one day after Dolly has left. Elena who is nearby gives Laling a hard quick look and says something I can’t follow. Laling responds sharply. What’s wrong? People say "tomboy" to me because of my short hair. Then mom says, “Dolly, you are always a girl in this house.” “Yes mum,” she mumbles.
I try to see what she’s feeling, but you can’t tell with Dolly. One day, Dolly is gone. “Where’s Dolly?” I ask. We’re used to our mother’s silences now, so I wait. Finally mom says, “The other helpers weren’t comfortable with her.” Mom's edgy, she doesn't want to talk about it. Is she angry? I can't tell, but I have that queasy feeling again, so I just say,
It takes a few years to follow this logic back to the bible.
White Lady and Orange Jesus
Not all things white are multo, ghosts. But mostly. The White Lady is the multo queen. Orange Jesus is see-through too, but he's light brown and he’s not a multo. He makes sure you know when he says "look at my hands and feet." It's still creepy that he asks Thomas to touch his wounds. That's so Catholic.
The White Lady, like Orange Jesus, appears everywhere. In komiks, there's a True Stories about a white lady who takes a taxi and invites the driver to come to her house. He wakes in the morning on cold ashes! A burned down ghost house! After taxis, she favors girls' dorms and bathrooms. It’s because of the blood. A White Lady lives in the Union Elementary School bathroom in the dark corner near the stairs. I hold my pee and run home during recess. She got upset and pushed the mirror over the sinks so it crashed all over the floor during morning period. Wow! Fourth grade girls were screaming. But you know, it's stinky filthy in there, with bm and kotex blood smell. The floor's sloppy wet and shoe prints on the toilet rims. In my personal opinion, the White Lady did it to force the janitor to clean up. Some times I wonder.... "How do you know it's the White Lady?" If you see, you know. Slim, tall, in a white gown, long black hair draped over her face. If you're stil not sure, look at her feet. They are pointed the wrong way. That’s why she is always barefoot. The White Lady's real home is the cemetery, somewhere Orange Jesus never goes. Orange Jesus and the White Lady never meet. She wouldn’t flee anyway, not like the aswang. She’s the sorrowing dead.
For a joke, strangers yell at Johanna and me, “White Lady!” or “White Monkey!” We pretend we don't hear.
Johanna and I are the white kids at Union Elementary School. So maybe we are white like the White Lady. Even though the school is right beside my house, anyone could swoop down and get us. The kids are grabbed into cars. Lots are kidnapped, mostly Chinese and mestizos whose parents have money. “Americans are rich,” we know, and we live in a big missionary house. Dad says, “No we’re not rich. We didn’t come here to make money.” In 4th grade, it's poor kids who disappear from schools around Manila. Then, one by one, they show up again, grim and mum with a small crescent scar on their cheek. “Scarface Scare!” cry the jarios like Manila Bulletin. Who will be next? All of us anxiously scan the b&w photos of sullen hollow-eyed child faces in The Manila Bulletin. UES is in alarmed lockdown. We wait dutifully behind the walls until someone picks us up. Mrs. Teves our principle makes the rule that no one can wander out on Wright Street to go to Reyes Sari Sari Store, buy banana lumpia, chocolate or orange popsicles, or cotton candy in the after-school vendor spree outside the school walls. No patentero, no holens, kicking sipa, or lingering on the sidewalk.
I need Orange Jesus for rescue power. "Make me see-through," I pray. I crawl out of my bed to kneel, which is for emergencies, and whisper, “Please Jesus, don’t let dem take me, Johanna, or Phyllis.”
There are minor stories about kidnappings. Then jarios shout about a mestiza who disappears. She returns, and I check jario pictures. She is pointing at the cave where the kidnapper kept her until her parents paid ransom. Just in case Orange Jesus decides to test me, I pin string and matches inside my panties. I will trail the string behind me like Hansel and Gretel when they take me to the cave because insects will take away crumbs. Each day before school, I do this.
Now that I have my own room, in the dark, alone, each night, I lie awake with the outside florescent light spilling in through the screen. Asleep, nightmares strangle me: blue black, white ladies, taximen, smothered terror. Awake in the muggy night, the bamboo whish with unfriendly intent, angry cats yowl, sometimes a calming "balooot" call from a faraway vendor, and a gecho hiccup. I weigh the plan to salve the fright. Should I a) speak Tagalog immediately so they will treat me better, or b) pretend I don’t know Tagalog so I can listen in on their plans. This too requires some kneeling prayer.
Thanks to Orange Jesus, in all my Manila days I don’t ever meet the White Lady in person or have to use Tagalog to get out of a cave.