It is perhaps easy to forget, from the safe confines of the secure affluence of wealth, where my poorest and most desperate moments in life once lay. Even to relate such times now passing years have distanced me from them is no simple task. Perhaps due the unjustified embarrassment I still feel. Perhaps a confidence betrayed of myself: by myself, of the helplessness then, facing a truly untimely and bitter end. Yet, for the story to be told, it must be told in its entirety: from the beginning.
I can't begin with the fairy house, nor the vegetable garden, or with the erroneously-named Yamashita's treasure. It has to be here, at the onset of my illness. You see, I got sick. I had cancer.
I was a civil engineer then, working all over Asia for an American multi-national construction company, and based in Singapore. For the preceding nine years I had been involved with the building of bridges, tunnels and dams throughout the greater Asian area. From Bangladesh to Java; India to Iran; Vietnam to the Philippines. And it was there, in the Philippines, that I met my future wife.
We had married during my fourth year overseas, and set up house originally on the sprawling outskirts of the city of Manila. Our daughter was born the following year, beautiful Lani. A fine mixture of our two races: dark hair, soft features, and ivory skin.
During that ninth year abroad, our fifth year of marriage, we had local contractors build a house of our own design in Pangasinan: close to the sea at Lingayen. Of course, we had virtually exhausted our savings in doing so, but the house was built and completed at last. Elena, my wife, was born in the barrio where our house stood. She had purchased the land, a fifteen hundred square meter lot, from her grand-mother. She lived in a quaint rattan and timber house in the back corner of the garden.
Apong was advanced in her years, her husband long dead, and desired the money from the sale of the land before she died. So she and Elena agreed on the purchase, signed all the relevant legal documents of deed transfer, and we designed and built our house. Hers still stood in the corner of the garden, and was welcome to do so for her remaining years.
Yes, the house was completed, and we had moved from Manila during my annual home leave period. That was my ninth year of service in Asia. Lani's fourth birthday was celebrated in our new home. Then I returned to Singapore, to sign the fresh contract that was awaiting me in the company's office.
As with each new contract I had to go along for a full medical examination by the company doctor. He prodded and probed, took tests and X-rays, and asked the normal questions concerning my health during the preceding twelve months: since my last examination. All done, I left his office and spend the rest of my day swimming in the hotel pool. Life was pretty good.
I presented myself at the company's offices the following morning, and was shown into Bill Cameron's inner sanctum. Bill and I had been friends for years, had worked on field projects together all over the Far East, before he had finally accepted an administration post in Singapore.
“Sit down Jeff,” he spoke. “Take the weight off your feet.”
I sat in one of the chairs fronting his desk as he picked up a blue folder. While Bill studied the folder, I studied him. He hadn't changed much since leaving the field. Perhaps a bit more around the waist: due the long business luncheons he reckoned to despise. For Bill Cameron to despise any activity that involved good food and drink was very unlikely. Maybe a couple more wrinkles around his blue eyes, perhaps a few gray hairs trespassing in the dense black of his bushy crown. The hands and wrists were still the same, strong and powerful: from the active field work he had carried out over the last thirty years in remote corners of the globe. Bill the Bull. Bull Cameron. Yes, a suitable nickname he was identified by.
'Problem with the medical you took yesterday, Jeff', he said, looking up from the folder. 'The doc’ wants you back down there again this morning. Something's screwed up with your chest X-ray. So, if you get yourself over there now and have another photo we can get together again here tomorrow. That okay with you?'
I complied with his wish, and made my way to the doctor's office. They were expecting me, and the X-ray technician quickly carried out her task: asking me to remove my shirt completely on this occasion. I sat in the waiting area for fifteen minutes, and was duly summoned into the doctor's examination room. He had two X-ray plates fixed against an illuminated board, and alternated his attentions between them equally.
'Mr. Hanson, I'm afraid we have a problem here,' he informed me with a despondent look. 'Can you remove your shirt and lie on the couch, please.'
I did as he requested, and his fingers pressed into my upper chest, then he applied his stethoscope, then return to his digital probing. 'Any pain here?' he asked.
I replied there wasn't.
'Any discomfort at all? Any soreness?' He further inquired.
Again, I replied there wasn't.
He re-applied his stethoscope and asked me to take deep breaths: hold, then exhale. Removing the chrome disc from my chest he requested me to dress and sit down. By this time I was a mixture of puzzled, intrigued, and damn scared.
'Any pain at all when you breathe deeply?' he asked.
'No', I informed him, 'none.'
'Any traces of blood in your phlegm?'
'Any peculiar dryness in the throat? Any strange taste in the mouth? Any recent sourness on the breath?'
No, no and thrice no, doctor.
'Any undue coughing at all? Any unusual loss of weight?'
'Do you smoke at all? Cigarettes? Pipe?'
Again, I answered negative.
'Ever smoked at all?'
'Any loss of appetite in the past week or so? Any shortage of breath while under physical exertion? Any insomnia? Any vomiting in the morning?'
'Hell doctor, do you think I'm pregnant?' I jested wildly.
He smiled at me, a sad smile. 'Mr. Hanson, the X-rays reveal you have tumours in the lower sections of both the left and right bronchus. That is why I requested you return here to-day for a secondary X-ray, so we might eliminate the possibility of a faulty plate. I'm sorry, but I cannot pass you fit for work. Naturally you will want to seek a second opinion, as is normal in such cases as yours. But I do advise you to consult your personal physician as soon as possible.'
'I don't have a regular doctor in Asia,' I replied, 'how about you give me a first opinion now, doctor? I feel fine, I was out swimming in my hotel pool all yesterday afternoon. I'm sleeping well, eating well, and feel healthy and strong.'
'Yes, at the moment this may be the case. It isn't at all unusual. But, it will not continue to be the case, I can assure you, Mr. Hanson. There are several ways that your tumours, which I consider to be malignant, can be treated. Chemotherapy is our best course of action initially. If this doesn't arrest their growth, then deep therapy cobalt irradiation, and possible surgery can be tried. Your treating physician may feel your case likely to respond to other forms of drugs, and many are available. You are a young man, Mr. Hanson, there is no need to lose hope.'
'Are you telling me I'm going to die?' I asked incredulously.
'Within a matter of months, yes, ' he stated so matter-of-factly.
I was flabbergasted. Who had turned my world upside-down since yesterday? But my mind quickly regained an even keel, clearing my thoughts and emotions to cold common sense once more. 'Doctor Mun, you say a matter of months. How many months do you expect me to live actually?'
'Well, it is very difficult to give an accurate appraisal in your instance, but I would judge less than a year. Four to six months before you become bed-ridden and in an advanced state. A lot hinges on whether the cancer becomes aggressive and metastasizes: spreads to other vital organs, to other areas of the body. You must understand, Mr. Hanson, we know from your last medical examination, one year ago, that the chest X-ray was clear. Thus, the tumours may be eleven months old, or perhaps only a few weeks.'
'What would your guess be Doctor?' I pressed him.
'From their apparent size now, and your general good physical condition and state of well-being: no more than three months since they started to develop,' he replied.
'Just one more question, Doctor. Who, in your opinion, is the best authority on this type of cancer in Singapore?'
He pondered deeply for a few moment, pyramiding his slender fingers together and chewing lightly on his lower lip, before he answered. 'I feel Dr. Heng Ho Seng is perhaps the most qualified specialist for you to consult for a second opinion in your case. He holds surgery at Singapore General Hospital, just off Jalan Bukit Merah but his private surgery is at Bukit Timah.”
“If you wish, I can call and make an appointment for you to see him to-morrow. Your file will be sent over to his office this afternoon, and my secretary will call you to advise of your appointment time. I am so sorry to have to give you such depressing news, Mr. Hanson, but I do advise you to attend Doctor Seng's clinic for treatment as soon as possible.'
'I noted from your file that you are married, with one child. I realise thirty-five is a relatively young age, but I do advise, in all candour, that you put your affairs in order within the coming months.'
I agreed to see Dr. Seng as soon as an appointment could be made, and thanked Dr. Mun for his time, advice and candid answers to my questions.
I suppose I was in a state of emotional shock then, as I rode the elevator down from the medical centre and walked out Shenton Way. A strange euphoria had enveloped me. As if I had just watched a deeply moving film that had a profound effect on my psyche. As though I was a part of what I had just learned, but in some way dislocated, quite safe, from the actual realities. Yet, this wasn't true. I had cancer. I was going to die.
Before I realised, I'd walked to the Post Office building at Collyer's Quay. There were vacant taxis at the stand there, and I climbed into the first in line. The taxi's interior was chilled by its air conditioning, a blessed relief from the heat and humidity outside. I was sweating from my walk and wiped my face and neck with a handkerchief. The taxi pulled out into the one-way traffic flow on Fullerton Road, and crossed the Singapore River, over Anderson Bridge.
'Whey you wanna go la?' asked the elderly Chinese driver.
My fragmented thoughts came swiftly back to a single focal point. Where did I want to go? Not Hell. Heaven preferably. Home? Not yet. Singapore General Hospital? To-morrow. My hotel? Later.
'Can you take me to the P.U.B. Building on Somerset Road, please?' I requested. His eyes glanced at me through the medium of the rear view mirror. 'You work oil rig, yeh?' he questioned.
'No, I work for a construction company,' I informed him. He continued speaking as though I hadn't enlightened him to the last fact.
'Plenty company oil drilling in P.U.B. Building,' he stated in his slanted English. 'Riley Connaught, he work Datax Drilling before. You know him?'
I replied that I didn't.
'Mister Riley before, many times I take him airport. Always his driver when he come Singapore. Go Sembawang, buy wood carving. Go Geylang, find girl. Go Serangoon Gardens, drink beer. He stay before Ladyhill Hotel. Now, no more. Job finish, he go back to America. Plenty drilling before, now finish job. All go. Price oil too low. Price oil come back up again, plenty ex-pat come back Singapore. All drilling before. Java, Malaysia, Balikpapan. You work Balikpapan?'
I smiled slightly as I replied, 'No, I've never been to Balikpapan. My company builds bridges: that sort of thing. Construction only, no well drilling.'
Again, he continued in the same mode. 'You get job drilling company. Very big money. Work Java, bank Singapore, live Bangkok: no pay taxes. Buy your girl plenty gold, then she make good wife. Waaa! Good eh!'
My mood shifted to a slightly lighter frame listening to his dislocated conversation. I smiled as it struck me he might know more about the mechanics of the Asian oil economy than O.P.E.C. and the I.M.F. combined as we pulled into the forecourt of the concrete monstrosity where my company's offices were located, and I paid the fare.
Tipping him generously for his unconscious raising of my spirits, he gave me his parting spiel. 'You need driver anytime Singapore: you call me telephone. No big charges for taxi, I give you special rate like Mister Riley before.'
He handed me a business card, not his, with a telephone number scribbled on the back side. I closed the door on the cool interior and walked into the building's foyer. The gloom started to descend over me once more as I stood in the elevator to rise six floors above the city. The office receptionist called through to Bill Cameron's secretary to check if he was free to see me. He was. I strolled into his office and plonked myself down in the chair by his desk.
'Doctor Mun called me a few minutes ago Jeff,' he began. 'Hell, I'm really sorry. You're gonna see this guy at the General Hospital to-morrow, yea? Then at least you'll know where you stand for sure.'
'How do I stand with the company, Bill?' I asked.
'Jeff, they ain’t gonna give you another contract while you've got this thing. Get yourself cured, sorted out, then we can talk about going back to work. Once you've got a clean bill of health. My hands are tied, buddy, there ain't a thing I can do to help you on this, as much as I want to. If it was an accident
in the field, and you were disabled, then things would be different. We'd be legally liable to look after you. But this?' He looked at me with a face full of sympathy, and turned his palms upward and outwards over the desk. 'It's a bad time to get sick Jeff,' he continued. 'You've just finished your home leave, your last contract's expired, and your fresh one's not signed.'
'How about my medical and life insurance? The company scheme? How do I stand there?' I inquired.
“Normally the insurance plan continues through from one contract to the next: automatically. But, as it's fully financed by the company, then yours expired with your last contract. If someone gets sick while they're on leave then the old story applies: you're only covered if you don't get sick. Shit Jeff, I've known guys get screwed on this principle before: many times. Always get sick on company time, never your own.'
'The company will foot the bill for your examination with the specialist to-morrow, but I'm afraid your treatment will have to be paid for out of your own pocket. Have you got any medical insurance besides the company scheme, Jeff?'
'No Bill,' I replied quietly. 'I've been adequately covered for the past nine years by the company, so I never considered it necessary. Not much chance of my passing a medical for a life-cover policy now, is there?'
There was a genuine sympathy in his eyes, I could easily tell. 'How about Elena and the kid, Jeff? Have you anything stashed away for them?'
'We've around three thousand dollars left, since we completed the house and moved to Pangasinan. I can't afford extensive medical treatment and hospitalisation on that. This was to be our big saving year, now that all our furniture, car, and house are bought and paid for. Looks like it's going to be my big losing year though, doesn't it.'
'I can let you have money if you need it, Jeff. Even if it can never be paid back,' he offered.
'No thanks Bill, that wouldn't be right for me, or for you. But I do appreciate the gesture.'
As I rose to leave, he asked that I call him once I knew the specialist's prognosis. I returned to my hotel to find a message from Dr. Mun's secretary awaiting at the reception desk. My appointment with Dr. Seng was set for the following morning. I went to my room and showered, then lay across the bed. I couldn't concentrate to read, my mind was a jumble. I began feeling my throat and upper chest with my fingers: no pains, no soreness. I filled my lungs to capacity: no pain. I twisted my neck from side to side, and swallowed repeatedly. No discomfort.
'Christ', I said to myself, 'stop it'. You've gone through life up to now without acquiring any nervous habits, don't start now. The next thing, you'll be biting your nails with worry. Time enough for that, once you know for certain. Once you've seen Doctor Seng.'
So, my fingers left my throat, my deep breathing ceased and my repeated swallowing stopped. No pain, no discomfort, no soreness. No more job. No more birthdays. 'Dear God, dear Jesus, dear Mary,' I began, and then stopped. I'd never bothered praying since I was a child, and attended the church Sunday school. Even then I would peep through my clasped hands to see if everyone else was praying. My prayers now were likely to cause no great stir of compassion in a most unlikely Heaven.
I didn't sleep much that night, and presented myself at the hospital the following morning, at the appointed time. Things seemed very well organised there, impressive and efficient. I was first directed to the X-ray department, where they photographed me from different angles: neck and chest. Then back to the waiting area of reception for an eternal half-hour until a nurse summoned me into Doctor Seng's office. He was studying X-ray plates clipped to an illuminated board, and bade me to join him.
'Mr. Hanson?' he inquired. I replied that I was.
'Here, you see', he explained. pointing to the plates, each in turn. 'You have tumours in both the left and right bronchus.'
I looked carefully at the plates, but could discern no more than two dark shadows on each exposure. They held little significance for me clipped to the lighted strip board, even though their malignant potency was eating away my very life as I stood there.
He carried out a thorough physical examination and various tests, asking too a volume of questions before informing me a biopsy should be carried out. A simple, painless matter, he informed me, to determine whether they were actually malignant. Obviously, he had his doubts and my spirits lifted a hundredth part of an iota. The biopsy was performed an hour later under local anaesthetic.
Even to this day, twenty-five years later, I can still recall the awful choking sensation in my throat as the biopsy samples were taken from the tumours in both my bronchus.
The following morning I returned to the clinic for the biopsy results. Doctor Seng was seated behind his cluttered desk, and studying a file, presumably mine, that lay open before him.
'How do you feel this morning, Mr. Hanson?' he inquired, removing his gold-framed spectacles and placing them on his desk. 'Any soreness at all?'
'No Doctor, a little yesterday afternoon, but none this morning.'
'The analysis of the samples taken during the biopsy is not favourable, I regret to say. Both tumours are malignant. So, we must now face our options, and begin treatment as soon as possible. I would like to admit you here, in Singapore General, and commence a program of chemotherapy to try and halt the growth of both tumours. If we have no favourable response, then we must consider our next option, which involves deep therapy irradiation of the tumour sites. Our last, and least, favourable option is surgery.'
'How long do I have to live without treatment, Doctor?'
He considered my eyes for a long moment, looking deeply, as if to examine my very psyche. 'Seven months at the most, four months before you start to experience daily pain and your physique deteriorates drastically,' he replied.
'With chemotherapy, what are my chances of a full recovery? Fifty-fifty, or better?' I further inquired.
'I'm sorry, Mr. Hanson, but I cannot be so optimistic as to say fifty-fifty. A lot less odds in this case, I'm afraid such odds are far from certain.'
'Well yes, the treatment is unpleasant. But with such a disease as cancer our available methods of treatment are far from adequate. New drugs are tested virtually every day in cancer research, but their success rates are disappointing,' he added.
'You see, Doctor Seng, I can't admit myself for treatment right now. I have to return home to the Philippines first, to speak with my wife, and to see our daughter. This has come as quite a shock to me, as I only learned of my illness two days ago. Secondly, I can't afford protracted hospitalisation and medical treatment.'
'Mr. Hanson, I do understand, and sympathise with your dilemma, but the cost of treatment can be provided by our cancer research fund. Everyday you go without treatment then your chances of a successful cure are lessened greatly. I cannot stress this point strongly enough.'
'If you intend to stay in the Philippines and not return here for treatment, then I advise you admit yourself for treatment at the cancer research clinic in Manila. They have highly trained and competent staff there too. Please do not succumb to the attitude that you are certain to die. There must always be hope alive in your mind.'
I thanked him for his help and advice, signed the relevant forms, and returned to my hotel. Ringing Bill Cameron, I related Doctor Seng's prognosis, then informed him of my intention to return home the next day.
'Have you booked your flight yet?' he enquired.
I told him that I hadn't, as I intended to purchase a ticket after my call to him.
'Hell Jeff, we flew you over here to start a new contract, and we'll fly you back too. You want to fly to-morrow?'
'Yes,' I replied, 'on the first available flight.'
'Then you stay over at the hotel and I'll get the booking clerk here to make the arrangements. How about I come over around six this evening with your air ticket and we can have a drink together before you leave?'
I agreed to his suggestion, but warned him I might not be very cheerful company. He rang off, and I set to packing my suitcase as far as possible: in readiness for my flight the following day. I still had the antiseptic smell of hospital on me, so I showered and soaped until the bathroom was dense with a steamy fog. Then, with a towel wrapped around my waist, I lay on the bed and stared at the creamy ceiling until my eyes closed to the safe embrace of sleep.
I awoke just after five in the afternoon. Awoke slowly, and lay on my back with my thoughts. A great sense of peace had come over me now. My decision has been made.
Showering again, I dressed casually and made my way downstairs to the lobby bar. Bill the Bull arrived just after six, and I ordered his usual Jack Daniels with ice as he strode across the lobby to where I was sat. We moved from the bar stools to a quiet table, relaxing in the overstuffed armchairs.
'Got you booked on the Philippine Airlines flight at nine-forty-five to-morrow morning, Jeff', he informed me. 'Your reservation's confirmed, Mabuhay class. So that will give you a little extra comfort and attention.' He handed me an envelope, which I opened to check the contents: an airline ticket isn't normally so bulky.
'What's this Bill?' I asked, withdrawing a company cheque and pay statement along with the airline ticket.
'Managed to get you a month's salary in lieu of notice,' he explained. 'We telegrammed you to come back to work at the end of your home leave, so fundamentally you'd started working even though your contract wasn't signed. The fact you've failed the medical, Jeff, is one of these things we have to make allowances for. Thus, there were no objections when I requested accounts to pay you a month's money in recognition of your past working performance, and as a notice waiver. It will give a couple of thousand dollars more in your stash, at least.'
I thanked him for his efforts on my part, and was genuinely grateful.
'You're gonna get treatment in Manila, aren't you Jeff?' he asked, his eyes boring into mine in deadly earnest. 'I've known a hell of a lot of guys have cancer and got themselves cured. Don't give up on me boy.'
'How many have you known with cancer that died, Bill', I questioned.
'Too damn many,' he admitted, lowering his stare. 'Too damn many by far, Jeff. But they all got treatment for it, regardless. Just make sure you do the right thing too, fella.'
'I came to a decision this afternoon Bill. If I go into hospital for protracted treatment now: the chemotherapy, then that’s going to knock my immune system upside-down and I am going to feel ill. Chances are I'll never leave the hospital again. But right now I feel good, and the doctors tell me it'll be some months before I do get a lot of pain and become physically incapacitated.'
'You see Bill, if I return home now I can set up some businesses for Elena so she has an income after I'm gone. Invest in more rice land with the cash we have. Expand the piggery and chicken coops. Buy a rice thresher too, so she can have her brothers thresh for neighbouring farmers, apart from just our own crops. Give her and Lani some security for the future.'
'That's a very brave decision buddy,' he commented, 'but I reckon it's the most foolhardy thing I've heard said in a long time. Jeff, you're going to throw away the only chance of survival you have. If you don't get treatment now, then you've no fucking chance at all. That shit will eat you away.'
'I'm looking at it through a different pair of eyes, Bill,' I explained. 'That's the way it's going to be.'
'And Elena is going to go along with all this too? You reckon she'll agree to it, this ‘sensible shoes’ voluntary euthanasia scheme of yours?' Bill questioned.
'Once I explain the situation to her fully: yes,' I answered.
Bill looked at me, then slowly shook his head. 'I'd think pretty deeply on it before you bind yourself to this contract, and sign your own death warrant Jeff.'
We ordered fresh drinks, and the subject changed. We talked of our old times together in the field. Of the many characters we'd worked with. Of our constructional successes. Of our dismal failures too. Of the time we had a half-built bridge swept away by a flash flood in northern Thailand. Of Perry Stevenson losing his right arm when a winch line snapped, and it's back-lash caught him: that was in Pakistan five years ago. Yes, we reminisced for a couple of hours, then paid our bill and parted company. We shook hands, then he embraced me in his huge arms.
'Don't give up on me Jeff, don't do that on me, ' he spoke, releasing his hold and turning to leave.
Never before had I seen Bull Cameron close to tears, but he was that evening. Myself too. Damn the emotions that afflict man. Do they weaken us, or strengthen our resolve?
Back in my room I completed my packing. laying out my clothes for the next day: the journey home. I thought of writing to my parents in Oregon, but decided against it. Time enough for that yet. I didn't want them coming over to the Philippines and fussing over me, the letter to them could wait awhile.
The flight that next day was uneventful, I recall. I was able to relax and stretch my six-foot frame easily in the comfort of Mabuhay Class seating, and dozed for most of the three hour journey high above the South China Sea.
The pilot announced our imminent arrival at Manila International, and I secured my seat belt when the lighted signs indicated the fact. Home again, less than a week away in Singapore. Home to Elena and Lani. Home for good. Home to die.
I cleared the immigration and customs formalities quickly, and walked out into the heat of a Philippine's March afternoon. Hailing a taxi on the forecourse, I directed him to drop me at the Rabbit Bus Station in Santa Cruz. My timing was good, and I boarded a bus bound for Alaminos that would pass our barrio (village) on its journey north across Pangasinan. Once we had threaded our way through the afternoon traffic in Manila, and reached the expressway at Balintawak, then the trip was swift and cool. A good breeze blowing in the opened windows as we headed north: the driver's foot hard to the floor.
When I alighted the bus it was close to seven in the evening, and darkness had fallen. The sun's fiery orb of deep red had burned to dull embers behind the mountains of Zambales a half-hour before. A lazy gibbous moon, lying on her back, rose above the trees as I walked the one kilometre distance down the dusty lane to our house. A radio played a hit from the sixties, from a house hidden back in the trees to my left. The Stones: Ruby Tuesday.
Good mood-music, music from my teens. An orchestra of cicadas performed in the acacia opposite our house as I opened the gate and placed my feet on hallowed ground.
A chit-chat ticked his tongue to announce my arrival. Sammy, our dog, lifted his head lazily form his prone spot on the patio steps, then returned to his canine muses as he recognised my scent. Home. Safely home. I swallowed hard. No discomfort. No pain. No soreness. Home. Home for good. Home to sicken. Home to rot. Home to die.
I walked across the patio and opened the screen door to the living room. I could hear Elena working in the kitchen. Putting my hold-all down, I trod slowly to the doorway and poked my head around.
'Hello sugar, I'm back again,' I said.
'Sus, you make me jump Jeff,' she said, turning with a start. Wiping her hands on a tea towel, she came to me, encircling her arms around my neck. Our lips met and we kissed. My arms closed around her waist and I lifted her from the floor. I pulled my face slowly away from hers, breaking our embrace.
'Good to have me back?' I asked.
'Of course it's good, darling,' she replied, 'but I thought you were going to India to build a dam?'
'Where's Lani?' I inquired abstractly.
'Sus, she is very tired tonight after dinner. So I give her a bath, then she sleep early.'
We walked together through the house to Lani's bedroom. There she was, curled up in a ball, sleeping soundly. I leaned over her slumbering form and kissed her cool cheek. Overhead, the ceiling fan swished quietly away: circulating the fragrant, night-time air. We left Lani to sleep, and returned to the comfort of the living room armchairs.
'You like coffee or tea, Jeff?' Elena asked.
'Tea please, darling.'
She returned minutes later with a tray laden with steaming cups, biscuits, and cake.
'Should I cook dinner for you, Jeff, or will this be okay?'
'No, this is fine. I ate on the flight over from Singapore,' I informed her.
'So, you better tell me what happened. I know something has,' she spoke.
Elena is very intuitive, always has been, and still is to this day. I must admit, it sometimes borders on the psychic, her predictions and so forth. She claims it is because she was born with the Veil of Venus covering her face.
Now, this I have seen as Lani was born with the same thing. It is a membrane covering the whole face, and was removed from Lani's immediately after her delivery. Quite a shock to see your first child come into the world like that.
But the doctor trimmed it away without our newly-born baby daughter showing undue discomfort at all. And she was as cute as you could imagine once it was removed. She never retained any scars from the removal, and the doctor informed at the time that this was not unique.
'She will have second sight,' he told me, 'they always do.'
The Philippines is an archipelago of many superstitions, a lot dating back to their tribal histories and folk-lore. Some developed from the early days of their conversion to Catholic Christianity. You see, I'm not superstitious at all. Well, I wasn't then.
So, I told Elena the story. What had transpired when I returned to Singapore. All of it. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even my conversation with Bill Cameron the previous evening.
Tears streamed down her face by the time I had finished, and she hugged closely to me. She urged me to go to Manila and seek medical treatment there. We would afford it somehow, she urged. Get well Jeff, please get well. It was written in her face, her tear-stained face. In her sad, pleading eyes. I didn't need second sight to understand that.
'If I start with a course of chemotherapy and complete hospitalisation Elena, then I will really feel sick from day one. I think that two tumours are more than any man can expect to be cured of. I think I'll die regardless.'
Her lips brushed mine, and we began to embrace, then she drew away. I looked into her tear-sparkling eyes.
'It's not contagious Elena,' I said gently,' You and Lani can't catch it from me. If you don't want to kiss, then I'll understand.
Her lips sought mine again. Urgently, passionately. We kissed long and deep, our hands seeking out the erogenous areas of each other's bodies. Touching, teasing, stimulating. I picked her up in my arms and walked to our bedroom. She slipped from my hold and undressed. I silently followed suit, and we lay back across the cool cotton sheets, again locked in a deep embrace. When her need was one of urgent pleading, I shifted my body over hers and parted those moist labial lips with the tip of my sex. She gasped as I entered her fully, and gyrated her pelvis and buttocks beneath me.
I began to move with a hardness and vigour that seemed novel to me, a totally fresh vitality. The ardent passion of Casanova, from a dying man. As she reached the stage of multiple orgasm, thrashing and bucking under my thrusting hips, I joined her in that beautiful sensation of ecstasy, and added my juices to her already saturated vagina. Her arms reached up, encircled my neck, and pulled my face down to hers, forcing my lips flat against her own. My hardness waned, and as I slipped from within her body we lay side by side, locked in a loving embrace.
The room had grown warm by this time. Perhaps due our sexual exertions. I rose to switch on the ceiling fan, then wrapped a towel around my waist and walked through the house securing all doors for the night. I checked Lani again as I passed her room: still sleeping, curled up in a ball. I leaned over her and kissed a rosy cheek. Goodnight baby, sleep well, I mouthed silently.
Elena turned to me as I sat on our bed, her hand reaching out to hold mine.
'When it does happen Elena, when I do die, then I want you to bury me and forget. I want you to find another husband, and a good father for Lani. I don't want you both mourning my passing forever more. Find a man who will provide for you both, whom you can grow to love.'
She clung to me once more, and lay sobbing, her head against my chest. Eventually, her sobbing subsided and she slept. Eventually, I also slept. My dreams that night were disjointed, fragmented versions of my life so far. But one portion was quite vivid: I died.
'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!'
My eyes opened, a weight lay on my stomach, a face pushed into mine: Lani.
'Hello Miss Pretty, how are you this morning?' I asked.
'Did you come home last night after I had gone to bed?' she asked.
'Yes dolly, you were fast asleep when I arrived.'
'Well,' she began, 'I was very tired yesterday. Beezi wanted to play and play and never stop. She never gets tired, ever.'
'Who's Beezi, dolly?' I asked.
'She's my new friend. She came to see me the day after you left last week. She's nice. She knows everything.'
I felt Elena's hand tap my leg under the sheet, and I turned to her. She winked one eye slowly and smiled, then kissed my cheek.
'Beezi is Lani's new friend, she comes to play with her every day,' Elena explained.
'Not come across a Beezi before have I, Mummy? Is she older than Lani?' I inquired.
Lani, still sat astride my stomach, looked at me with the obvious exasperation on her face that young children affect when adults, especially their parents, cannot understand the simplest things.
'Silly, she never gets any older. She's a fairy,' Lani explained. Hence Elena's wink.
'Ah, that explains everything,' I bantered to Lani.
'She's very pretty,' Lani went on. 'She looks after the star apple tree in the garden. That's her job.'
'I don't have to pay her a salary, do I dolly?' I continued in jest.
'Oh Daddy,' she chuckled,' of course not. God pays her.'
It was my turn to look at Elena. My lips twisted to one side in a gesture of: now I've heard it all.
'Come on, dolly daydream, let's get up and make some tea,' I said, lifting Lani into the air and placing her between us on the bed.
At four years old it's okay for a child, a little girl especially, to have imaginary friends, I assured myself. We hadn't lived in the barrio long enough for her to meet other children and form friendships yet. Obviously she had seen pictures of fairies in one of the story books Elena read to her each evening: at bed-time. No harm in having a fairy for her playmate. It was a phase that would eventually pass, surely - hopefully. I'd known guys who wanted fairies for friends. In fact, I'd known guys who were fairies, but not the story book type.
During the month that followed I assessed our total capital, and we located and purchased a further three hectares of rice land - adjacent to our original two hectares.
Elena's brothers, who lived nearby, would work the fields for her. We bought a good second-hand rice thresher at a fair price, and I overhauled and painted it, ready for the next harvests. My brothers-in-law and I extended the small piggery, and increased the stock to four breeding sows and four fattening hogs. The chicken coops were extended to house two dozen layers in one side, and two dozen broilers in the other. We had three carabaos (water buffalo) for ploughing and hauling already.
Two milk cows and a calf: and Lani's pony. So, at the end of my first month back home, all was completed to my satisfaction, as far as our limited finances would allow. Now Elena and Lani had some security, some investment, to provide for them. It was a good thing too. I had started to lose weight.
During that first month Elena's grand-mother, father, mother, sister and brothers had all given me their sympathies at various times. 'Sorry you're sick, Jeff.' 'You don't look sick, Jeff.' But I was sick, and starting to feel it too. An unusual dryness in my throat when I woke each morning. My appetite lessened, even though I was working physically each day. Phlegm formed in my throat, and I hawked to clear it. No blood. No blood yet.
While I'd been extending the chicken runs with Santi, Elena's younger brother, I had asked him if he still had the Smith and Wesson thirty-eight revolver he once showed me.
'It's at my house, Jeff, oiled and put away,' he answered.
'I need to borrow it Santi, for awhile,' I requested. 'Let me have some reliable ammunition too.'
He looked deeply into my face, discerning if I was actually serious.
'I might be dying of cancer Santi, but it sure as hell isn't going to kill me. I'm not going to hang around through the advanced stages and be a damn burden to Elena. Her spending our last pesos on pain killers and doctors who can do nothing to help me. That is the best way out for me, and for Elena too. Don't mention our conversation to her, hear? Only you and I need know.'
He brought the revolver over the next day, with a full chamber. One round would be enough, though. I secreted it on the top shelf of my wardrobe: safe from Elena's eyes, safe from Lani's curious fingers.
The following week I drove to Manila, leaving Elena and Lani at home. Only be a couple of days, going to round up a few debts. I did too. People who had owed me money from awhile back. A hundred dollars here, a thousand pesos there. Elena would need every centavo of it before she was done, and the first harvests were in and marketed.
I carried out the other purpose for my trip to Manila at the Makati Medical Centre. I had the X-rays and examination report from Doctor Seng, in Singapore, and presented them to a Doctor Cortes there. He had fresh X-rays taken at my request and on their examination and comparison to the earlier plates, confirmed that the tumours are growing, and a third tumour was forming in my right lung.
He requested, nay, strongly advised, that I admit myself for treatment there and then. 'Begin today, there is always a chance of recovery, there is always hope,' he informed me.
Hope! Hope? Where do we derive this word 'Hope' from? 'Where there is Light, there is Hope.' Who said that? Some highly optimistic bastard in the Bible? I had seen the light, and for me it was fading rapidly into perpetual darkness.
On my return journey to Pangasinan I drove past the lane leading to our house, and into the next town of Mangatarem. There I located an undertaker's parlour, and paid him in advance for a burial service and graveyard plot.
'Is it for yourself?' he inquired. 'The costs may have risen considerably by the time you die.'
'No', I informed him, 'the person to be buried would be dead in the coming months.'
'Then the charges today will be adequate to cover all expenses, my friend,' he related, escorting me from the premises with a hand on my arm. What a morbid, if necessary, profession to be involved with.
I next visited the attorney who had processed the legal documentation when Elena purchased the lot of land from her grand-mother. He had also dealt with the title deed transfers of the rice land we had recently bought. Together, we drafted my last will and testament, and I left the undertaker's receipt with him, to be attached to the will.
He knew I was dying. If he didn't, then he surely suspected it. He told me as much the following year when I next saw him in the same office.
Now it was done, all of it. Finalized. Completos. Now I could die with an easier mind. Ha! Die with an easier mind? What a fucking statement to make. Maybe the cancer had metastasized in my brain.
It was late afternoon when I reached home. Lani was playing in the back garden, close to Grandma's small bamboo house, skipping around the star apple tree. Plenty of room in our gardens for her to run around and play. The lot was huge, and the grounds still spacious even once the house was built. Perhaps my wording of 'garden' and 'grounds' is deceptive. A few shrubs, and the one tree. Nobody had cultivated the land at the back of the house in centuries. I intended to start the next day to build a wall, a low, cavitied wall, around the back patio, and use it as a planter for shrubs and flowers. If my strength held up. I was unusually tired from driving that day.
When Lani was in bed and asleep that evening, I related to Elena my visit to Attorney Hernandez in Mangatarem, and of drawing up a will. No need to tell of my visit to the undertaker's, she would find out soon enough.
'How do you feel, Jeff?' she asked.
'Tired sugar. But that's just with driving back from Manila. I'll be fine after a good nights rest.'
Surprisingly enough, I did feel fine the following morning. I awoke to the heralding of dawn by cockerels competing against each other for the loudest, longest crow. It was six o'clock.
I felt the dryness in my throat as I brewed a pot of tea. I coughed. Only a light cough. Phlegm formed in my throat. I walked into the bathroom and hawked, then spit into the wash bowl. No blood. Not a trace of blood. Yet.
I turned the faucets fully on to wash it's offending presence away.
The tumour in my right lung worried me more that the tumours in my bronchi. Why, I don't really know, but it did. As I returned to the kitchen and poured my tea into a mug, I swept the thoughts of it away, cleared my mind of it. You're a newcomer, you've got a lot of catching up to do. Your two malignant associates have a head start. But Messrs. Smith and Wesson will see you all damned before you complete the job. That's a fact.
By mid-afternoon my planter wall around the back patio was completed, and I started to render the vertical surfaces with wet cement, then cover them in washout pebbles left over from the house construction. We had quite a lot of building materials left over: bags of cement, re-bar of various diameters, timber planking, plyboard sheets, and the like.
Lani came over to inspect my progress, accompanied by her great-grandmother. The one hopping and skipping down the garden, the other bent over and shuffling along. Old Apong was a good age though, ninety-four last birthday. She had always been the same in the five years I've known her.
'You build nice wall Jeff,' she commented, as she sat on its outer edge. 'For plants, yes? I see like this before in the park at Mangatarem. You put bangka and dayang and tamo-kansi in there to grow, then it look nice. Put aloe there too, very good for Elena's hair.'
Now, she might have been ninety-four and stooped, but her mind was as sharp as ever still. She remembered the Spanish being in the Philippines, as a young girl. And the Philippine-American War - and the Japanese occupation too. A very vivid memory for all she had seen and experienced in life. I thought then, 'chances are she'll see her century in, and here's me: unlikely to make thirty-six.' But I was wrong. Wrong on both counts.
Lani was doing a grand job of drawing patterns in the damp cement with the end of her finger.
'Lani!' I admonished, 'Daddy's trying to make the wall nice.' She came round to me and kissed by cheek.
'Love you, Daddy,' she said.
'And I love you too, sweetheart. But don't draw in the wet cement, please.'
'Daddy, will you build a house for Beezi?' she asked.
I glanced at her face, then turned back to my pebble-dashing before replying. 'What kind of a house does Beezi want, Lani? A bungalow? A condominium? ' I asked jokingly. 'I thought she lived in the star apple tree?'
'Oh no, silly' Lani corrected, 'she only looks after the star apple. That's her job. She hasn't got anywhere to live. That's why she needs a house.'
'Okay, but what kind of a house does she want? One like ours?'
'No, course not. Only a small one. Made out of pebbles like those,' she indicated the glacial pebbles I was using to face the planter walls. 'We'll go and draw you a picture of what it should look like.'
And off 'we' went into the house. Apong still sat on the planter wall, so I assumed 'we' meant Lani and Beezi, although I only saw Lani skipping away.
'She has an invisible friend who's a fairy,' I explained to Apong.
'Plenty of fairies here,' Apong replied. 'They look after the trees and plants. Beezi looks after the star apple tree.'
'Can you see her?' I asked skeptically.
'Not now, but I could when I was young. When I was a child, like Lani,' came her reply.
Perhaps I was wrong. She might have a good memory still, but her mental faculties had obviously succumbed to senility in other areas of thought.
I had completed the pebbling by the time dusk fell, then washed off my tools and went into the house. Elena was busy cooking dinner as I passed the kitchen on my way to shower. No sign of Lani: nor Beezi.
I sat in the armchair, fresh and clean after my bathing. There was very little of interest on the television news, and I turned the set off as Elena laid the table for dinner.
'Come on Jeff, eat now,' Elena called. 'Where's Lani? Lani! Dinner time!'
'She came back into the house a while ago,' I informed Elena. 'Haven't you seen her?'
Elena said she hadn't, and I walked through to the bedrooms in search of her dainty little presence. Putting my head around her bedroom door I called 'Lani?' There she was, sat intently at her desk. I crept over and looked with interest at her project.
'It's Beezi's house.' she said 'that's what it has to look like. Now you know how to build it for her.'
'That's a toadstool!' I exclaimed. She must have seen pictures of fairies and gnomes living under toadstools in one of her books. It had a red, domed top, with tiny pebbles stuck to it in a random pattern. A green base, spreading out alike grass or moss: also set with a loose pattern of small pebbles. The stalk was of pebbles too, with steps and a doorway set at the base: and a window set in the upper stalk, just below the domed top. She handed me the coloured drawing with an accomplished smile.
'Can you build it like this?' she asked.
'How high has it got to be , sugar ?' I inquired.
She stood up and held her hand and arm out to their full extent, lifting her arm until the desired height was indicated.
'That's approximately one meter,” I advised her. 'And how round here? How big has the stalk to be?'
'As round as the blue bucket in the kitchen. As round as the bottom of the blue bucket,' Lani replied.
'Okay, dolly, tomorrow. But now: it's dinner time, c'mon.'
After the evening meal was over, I washed the crockery, pots, and pans while Elena bathed Lani. Then we put her to bed together. She fell asleep before Elena finished reading her selected story.
'Any pictures of fairies in that book? Fairies and toadstools?' I inquired.
'Not in this one,' Elena replied, standing to replace the book in the bedside shelf.
Her raven-black hair cascaded down to settle at a level with the backs of her knees.
She selected another book and skimmed through the pages until she found the correct one. 'Here', she spoke, handing me the opened book, 'this is the one Lani enjoys.'
I took the book from her and held it close to the bedside lamp. Nursery rhymes: and the page set with fairies dressed in blue. Long blond locks and cherub-like faces.
The toadstools were a creamy colour, their domes splotched with dark browns and greens. Marvellous thing, a child's imagination, I thought to myself.
We tucked Lani snugly up in bed, then sat in the comfort of the living room drinking cocoa before we too retired for the night. My attempts at love-making that night were pathetic, and Elena's experienced manipulations achieved no positive results.
'Don't worry darling, it's only because you're tired with building the wall today. It'll come good again,' she tried to reassure me.
Will it? I thought to myself. Is this the first real physical manifestation of my disease: impotency? Christ, I'd sooner be coughing blood in my phlegm and keep my erections a while longer.
I shouldn't have thought that. The next morning there was blood in my phlegm. Now the race was on: which tumour would eat me away first? But I was in no mood for laying bets.
After a shower I felt a bit better. No pain, no discomfort: just a quiet sadness in my heart. But that lifted with Lani around me as I measured the base diameter of the blue bucket in the kitchen.
'Twenty eight centimeters, dolly,' I said, showing her the exposed length of yellow steel tape measure. 'Come on, bring your drawing and we'll get started.'
We walked round to the rear of the house, picking up my tools from the garage on route.
'Okay, Miss Pretty, where does your friend want her house to be built?' I questioned Lani.
'Over there, in the corner. By the steps,' she told me, pointing to the corner of the patio, where the steps led up to the terrace outside our bedroom.
'Yes, I can build it there, no problems. Not in anyone's way, dolly.' I informed her. So I set to work. First the sand and cement, then the pebbles. Some as large as goose eggs, others no more than fruit drop size, with a fair selection of medium range for awkward spaces and the like. Some mottled, some white, some veined with multi-colours of quartz.
I placed a silver peso coin in the foundation for Lani's luck, and the base and stalk came together quickly. I built tiny steps up to the doorway as per Lani's drawing and verbal directions. It was the first time in my civil engineering career that I had worked under so young and cute an architect.
Sealing the little room in the upper section the stalk, I capped it off with cement. The toadstool's domed cap was formed on a circle of thick plyboard: slowly building it up until Lani agreed it was correct. Then I fixed it to the stalk. Mixing red oxide with pure cement, I coated the domed cap in the architect's required colour, and set tiny pebbles into the damp mix. The base was coated with a mix of green emulsion and pure cement, and small, round pebbles set in there also. The task completed, I sat back on the terrace steps and looked at Lani.
'Well, what do you reckon, dolly? Do you think Beezi will like her new house?' I enquired.
'She says it's beautiful Daddy. Now she has somewhere to live,' Lani replied.
'What colour dress does Beezi wear, Lani? A bright blue one?' I asked her.
'She doesn't wear a dress, she has fur all over her body,' Lani revealed, looking a mite reproachful that it should be necessary to explain such simplicities to me.
A sharp pain ran across my upper chest. I placed my hand over the spot and gasped. It quickly passed, and I leaned back against the terrace steps.
'Daddy, are you really ill?' Lani asked with concern in her dark eyes. 'Mummy said you were ill, but I wasn't to say anything to you.'
'I'm afraid so, sugar. Very ill indeed.'
'Are you going to get well again, or will you die?' she further inquired in her innocence.
'The doctors say I'm going to die sometime later this year, Lani.' I replied with the candour a child's mind expects.
'Will you go to Heaven, like Jesus did?' she went on.
I uttered a short laugh, and a smile creased my face. Extending my opened arms to her, she walked into my embrace. Hugging each other close I told her 'I hope so, my darling, I really do.'
Lani drew her head back and looked into my eyes.
'Daddy, I love you so very much. I don't want you to die. I want you to be my Daddy forever and ever. Beezi loves you too. She says you're a nice man.'
'Lani, I don't want to die, but sometimes decisions such as that aren't left for us to make. Things exist that are beyond our control. I'm sorry petal, but that's the way life is. Come on, no tears or you'll make me unhappy too. Let's clean the tools and tidy up the mess we've made.'
That evening, while Elena saw Lani to bed, I sat out on the back patio watching the moon slowly rise above the trees. The cicadas were in total disharmony as usual: still practicing for their distant debut at the insects' gala performance. I looked over to the toadstool - sorry - fairy house, that I had built during the day. The things we do to indulge our sweet children. But, it was a pretty, albeit unusual ornament to have in the garden. Still, why not? People have stone gnomes and rabbits adorning their rockeries. Plastic herons wading for fish in garden ponds. Why not a pebble toadstool for the garden fairy?
The moonlight must have been reflecting on the quartz in the pebbles I had built the toadstool of. A soft glow emanated from the little window set in the upper stalk. Perhaps it's the fairy's bedside lamp, I thought to myself, and smiled. Crouching down in front of it, I tried to locate the source of the glow, but was unable. Must be the moonlight on the quartz, I judged in my mind.
That night I slept. Elena was beside me, but after the previous night's failure, my amorous advanced had waned. Yes, I slept. And deeply, and long.
Elena brought me tea the next morning. Lani, climbing onto the bed, soon had me awake.
'Daddy, Daddy, wake up! We've made you some tea,' she shouted into my right ear, and pulled at my nose with her fingers.
I sat up in bed and kissed her forehead. Elena handed me the steaming mug. 'You sleep very well last night Jeff,' my wife commented. 'How do you feel this morning?'
'I feel okay, no worries, sugar,' I replied.
Her eyes bored into mine: questioningly.
'Seriously Elena,' I emphasized. 'I feel good. In fact, I feel hungry. What's for breakfast?'
'Breakfast!' she exclaimed in fun. 'Sus, if you stay in bed any longer, it'll be lunch-time.'
'Why, what time is it?' I asked, turning to look at the bedside clock. 'Nine o'clock!' I didn't realise it was as late as that. Have the pigs and chickens been fed?'
'Don't worry, Santi and Rudi took care of them. You need your rest, that's why I let you sleep on,' she related. 'Drink your tea, then take a shower. I'll have breakfast ready for you by the time you're finished.'
I was lucky that morning. First Elena kissed me, then Lani followed suit, before they disappeared to cook my belated breakfast.
While I cleaned my teeth in the bathroom, I gagged and hawked phlegm. Spitting it into the washbowl, I was afraid to look if it was streaked with blood like the previous day. But I did look, and there was no blood. Rinsing the toothpaste from my mouth, and cleaning the washbowl with the faucets running, I forced myself to cough and hawk again. I spit into the washbowl. No pain. No discomfort. No soreness. No blood. My throat wasn't dry when I woke this morning either. Don't kid yourself, boyo, I told myself. Up days and down days. This only an up day. Before long, they'll all be down days.
I ate my breakfast with gusto. Bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, and toast. Mango juice, and coffee to follow. Ate every crumb, drank every drop. Then I ate a slice of papaya to cap it all off. 'Thanks Elena, that was delicious.'
'You have good appetite this morning Jeff,' she commented. 'You need to eat plenty, you get skinny now.'
She prodded at my ribs. I reciprocated by tickling the sides of her waist until she collapsed in a heap of helpless giggles. Very ticklish, my wife. Always was, and still is to this day. I walked around the house to the back garden. All the pebble facing on the planter walls had set well. The fairy house looked very colourful, and had set nicely too.
As I stood examining my previous day's handiwork, the toadstool's architect came skipping down the path towards me.
'Daddy, can we plant flowers in the wall today?' she asked.
'That's what I intend to do, dolly,' I informed her.
So, armed with wheel-barrow and spade, I carted soil from our fields at the back of the house and filled the wall cavities. Next, I pushed the barrow down the dusty lane to Grandpa's house, where Lani's pony was stabled, and our cattle grazed. Loading up with rotted manure I returned to the rear patio and mixed it in with the planter's soil.
I'd never been much of a gardener before, but had watched my father work our garden in Oregon when I was a child. He was a great believer in organic matter, forever making compost heaps and digging it into the soil. Thus, I followed his taught sample. I skipped lunch that day, mainly due to eating a late breakfast: and transferred a number of our many pot plants into the patio wall cavity. When they were watered down, the patio looked very pleasant.
I had a shoebox full of vegetable, herb and flower seeds I'd bought in Singapore the previous year. Initially, they were meant for our rented house in Manila, but when we decided to build our own house in Pangasinan, I decided to save them for our future garden. As I began to sort through them on the patio table, Lani came over to join me, and assist in the task. She picked out several packets of flower seeds with deliberation and care, and put them to one side.
'These Daddy. Beezi wants you to plant these in the wall,' she instructed.
Alyssum, snapdragon, celosia, gloxinia, lovelia, and balsam. Why not, they were all well-suited for their chosen location. Then again she sorted through the vegetable and herb seeds, applying the same deliberation she had with the flower seeds. Parsley, dill, mint, sage, fennel, and coriander. All were laid before me for my perusal.
'You don't want me to plant any cauliflowers or water-melons in the wall, do you sweetie?' I teased her.
'Beezi wants you to plant the vegetables over there,' Lani informed me, indicating the bare ground by the north boundary wall.
'Whose going to do the digging?' I inquired. 'You and Beezi are very good at finding Daddy jobs to do, but Daddy ends up doing all the work, sugar. That soil is like concrete, petal. It hasn't been dug over in a million years. You see Lani, Daddy gets very tired at the moment because of his illness. I don't think I can dig that area over. A vegetable garden would be nice to have, but I doubt very much I can do it.'
'Beezi says you're not going to die now. She says you're going to get well. And if you plant the flowers and the vegetables, then her friends will come and look after them,' Lani informed in a matter-of-fact way.
'Will I have to build houses for all of her friends too?' I teased, ignoring her reference to the opinions of Doctor Beezi.
'Oh no. They'll all live in Beezi's house,' she related, quite seriously.
'Going to get very crowded in there, isn't it?' I teased again. She clutched her hands over mouth and giggled away to herself. Obviously there was a secret joke I wasn't privy to. Well, not then, anyway.
'Lani, it's not good a time to plant vegetables here. It's still the dry season. The rains won't come for another month yet.'
'Well, can we just dig a little bit and plant some cabbages?' she asked.
'For you, my darling, anything. A small area first, and we'll see how it goes from there. Okay?'
She agreed that the compromise was acceptable to herself and the imaginary Beezi.
'Better show me where you want the cabbages planting, Miss Pretty. Then I don't come into conflict with the Greater Plan of things,' I told her with a smile.
Lani found herself a short, bamboo cane, and scratched out the desired planting area in the hard, gray ground. It didn't look too great a plot to dig out and cultivate, so I picked up my spade and commenced the allotted task.
The shockwave ran up my arms, and made my teeth chatter as the spade connected with the ground. My comparison to concrete wasn't far from wrong.
'Lani, I'll need a mechanical excavator to dig this!' I exclaimed.
'Get the funny axe-spade thing that Uncle Santi uses in the fields,' she advised.
I knew what she meant. The axe-spade was a heavier version of a field adze: a mattock. I rested the spade against the wall: it was redundant in the primary stages of cultivation, and walked across the lane to Santi's house to borrow his 'funny axe-spade thing.' I shook my head and smiled. Some of the verbal descriptions children utter: amazing.
By the time I returned, Elena had brought afternoon tea out onto the patio. We sat and chatted, watched Lani marking lines in the hard ground with her bamboo cane. She eventually came over, and looked with approval at the heavy mattock as she munched cookies and drank her milk.
I stood up and walked to the patio's edge: surveying what she had been marking. 'What are the long lines for Lani?' I asked, virtually sensing the forthcoming answer with some inner terror.
'That's where the vegetable garden will be when you get well again,' she stated.
'Oh my God!' I thought. 'I'll need a full excavation crew to dig that over and cultivate it.' She'd marked out an area from the boundary wall some ten meters wide, and thirty meters in length. Three hundred square meters! This wasn't a vegetable plot, it was a veritable market garden!
'Look Lani,' I began to explain, 'this afternoon we'll plant the flowers and herbs in the wall cavity here. Then tomorrow I'll start to dig for the cabbages. But I doubt I can dig all of the ground you've marked out.'
'Oh, but you will once you get well again. Tell him about the papaya and the garlic, Mummy.'
I looked at Elena with puzzled eyes. She smiled back at me, a broad smile. 'Beezi has told Lani that you should eat papaya with raw garlic and ginger every morning for breakfast: and a bowl of muesli and goat’s milk – dusted with turmeric too,' she explained.
Beezi! This was getting beyond a joke. I like papaya, that's true. And I enjoy spicy cooking, with garlic as an ingredient. But 'raw' garlic, raw ginger – and turmeric on breakfast cereal.
'Only a slice of papaya, and a clove of garlic Jeff,' Elena continued. 'You like ginger, anyway – and turmeric in a curry.'
'Elena, whose side are you on?' I asked.
'I'm on the side that makes you well again,' she answered plainly.
'It's a bloody conspiracy!' I exclaimed.
'Mummy, Daddy just used one of the naughty words!' Lani looked at me with admonishing eyes.
'Sorry, slip of the tongue, darling,' I apologized. 'But seriously, first of all I build a house for Beezi, then she wants me to cultivate most of the northern Luzon for a vegetable garden. Now I'm expected to follow Professor Beezi's health food menu. Honestly Elena, it's getting ridiculous.'
They both looked at me as if I was a moron, then Elena collected the cups and plates, and went back into the house. Lani went off to play: skipping around the star apple tree. 'The world's going bloody mad,' I said quietly to myself: careful not to offend Lani's ears with my profanity.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent planting the flowers and herb seeds Lani had selected earlier. Dusk was falling, a beautiful red-streaked dusk, as I completed my planting and gently watered the seeds. As with all tropical dawns and dusks, they come upon you swiftly: and the dusk developed into night as I checked the lock on the garden gate.
Walking back down the path, I noticed the fairy house emanated a glow from the upper window again: a stronger glow tonight. It must reflected moonlight, I thought, looking around and across the fields. The moon was very low, just peering above the horizon. Weird? But everything that occurred after that night was weird too.
I slept early that evening, and was awoken by the usual chorus of competing cockerels at six the next morning. I felt rested, and the only dryness in my throat was that left by the body's inactivity during sleep. I rose and showered. No coughing, no hawking - perhaps two remission up-days in a row.
It was a splendid morning: warm and blue skied. I boiled the kettle and brewed tea. Just a mug for myself, let Elena and Lani sleep a while longer. I walked out onto the back patio and sat at the wrought iron table to enjoy the early morning sunshine while I drank. Grandma was already up and around: still an early bird, even at her advanced age. She pottered about the veranda of her little house, lighting the wood fire in a clay hearth ready to boil her water for the pungent local coffee she drank each morning.
I looked around the patio, noting that all the plants I had bedded the previous day had taken firm root. They seemed to be thriving. Noticing a flower starting to form on the Opuntia cactus I had transplanted, I rose to examine it. The parsley seeds alongside it were sprouting! To the left and the right: all I had sown the day before has sprouted! Snapdragon. Balsam. Coriander. All of them! In the mere twelve hours they had been in the ground, they had all germinated and sprouted through the soil!
Striding up the steps from the patio to our bedroom terrace, I collected the shoebox containing the seeds and returned to the patio table. I sorted through them selecting the packets that were sown the previous afternoon.
Parsley: germination, three to four weeks. Mint: fifteen days. Balsam: two weeks. Snapdragon: two weeks. Dill: ten days. Aloxinia: forty days!
Now, as I said earlier, I'm no gardener. But I do know for a fact that seeds don't germinate and sprout overnight: even in a well-watered, tropical soil. Weird. Very weird indeed.
I finished my tea and set to work on the first stage of the Lani-Beezi Vegetable Farm: the cabbage trenches. Dressed only in shorts and trainers, I soon had a good sweat flowing. I paused to wipe my forehead on the back of my hand when Elena and Lani appeared on the patio with a pot of fresh tea. Calling 'good morning', I went over to join them.
'Morning Jeff. You're up early. And hard at work too,' Elena said - then followed the inevitable 'How do you feel this morning?'
'I feel okay, honey,' I replied. I did too. Weird.
I sat Lani on my knee, from which position she continued to try boring a hole through the base of my tea mug with the spoon. 'That'll do Lani, I think it's stirred well enough by now.' I advised.
'Do you feel a teeny bit better Daddy?' she asked.
'Yes dolly, I do. A teeny bit.'
After the morning tea ritual was over, Lani and her Mummy returned to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. I resumed my digging until the summons that breakfast was ready reached my ears. And there it was: a bowl of muesli, with milk and a dusting of turmeic; a glass of mango juice, a slice of papaya, two cloves of garlic and a knob of ginger ------raw! I looked pleadingly at Elena. Lani was stricken by the giggles.
'Eat!' Elena pronounced. 'It's all good for you.'
So, eat I did. The garlic and ginger weren't half bad when I chewed them with a mouthful of papaya. The early start to my day's labours had given me quite an appetite, and I soon cleared my bowl and plate.
When I returned to the back garden, Lani's pony was tethered to the rail of grandma's veranda. I walked over to take a look at him. Lani's grandfather was there, sat on the stairs leading up to the house, talking with his mother.
'You make nice the patio now Jeff. Very nice the wall,' he said approvingly.
'Hello Tatang,' I greeted him. 'Yes, it looks better now, doesn't it. I've just started digging to the side over there. Lani wants me to make a vegetable patch. Can you have one of your boys bring me a few barrow-loads of horse manure over this afternoon?'
'I get Santi and Pulun to bring you later,' he replied in his best English. 'I take Lani for riding on her pony this morning Jeff. She like that eh? You want I have Santi come and help you dig?'
'No, I'll be okay thanks Tatang,' I answered. 'Just dig a little bit, day by day.'
He looked at my bare upper body. 'You get skinny now Jeff, not like before. It hurting you bad yet? The same thing kill Uncle Mattie, he get very sick.' He turned to look at his mother, as though for confirmation.
'Mattie don't die from cancer,' she corrected, 'he die from drinking lambanuk. It kill his liver, then his liver kill him.'
I smiled at their honest, open banter. Anyone who drinks lambanuk, nipa wine, long enough will get liver problems. It's a pretty potent brew. More of a raw spirit than a wine: not to be confused with the renown cellars of Bordeaux and their produce. If it were ever bottled commercially, and exported to the States, then the F.D.A would require it be labelled: 'The Surgeon-General has determined this liquid is no good for your health.'
Lani appeared from the house and started fussing around her pony. Tatang saddled her up, and they made their way out across the open fields.
'Well, I'm going to get back to my digging, Apong,' I informed her, as I rose from my seat on her stairs.
'You got hard job there Jeff,' she said. 'The American POW's were the last ones to plant vegetable there. Nineteen-forty-four/'
'I didn't know you had POW's here in this area?' I questioned here.
'Ah, plenty,' she went on. 'All over. From Lingayen, right down to Tarlac. The Japanese make them work in the fields with us. We never see them again after the Christmas of forty-four. The Japanese drive us all out of the barrios. Many trucks come here, plenty truck. They all leave before General MacArthur land at Lingayen in January. We know MacArthur coming back. The priest at Mangatarem have secret radio. He speak that the Chicanos already land in the Visayas, in Leyte. He speak they come to Luzon next, for Manila. A big army come Jeff. They all pass down the highway here. Chase the Japanese to Manila. We never see our POW's again. They take them all away in the trucks.'
'Who? The American forces liberated the POW's?' I asked.
'No, the Japanese take them in their trucks. Plenty big trucks. They come before the Christmas, leave after the Christmas: before the American soldiers come. All the barrios here empty ---- deserted. They drive us all out, into the hills. When we know they all leave, then we come back again. Back to our homes and our fields. But all the Japanese gone, none left. No soldiers here. No POW's left.
'He was here too. The Pig. Yamashita. He was their big general. Just before the Christmas. Here in the barrio with Prince Chichibu. Before they drive us all out. My husband, he go into the mountains in nineteen-forty-two, and my brothers. Plenty men go into the mountains. Join guerrillas, fight the Japanese. When Panchito, my husband, come back, he's like you Jeff. Very skinny. They eat roots, leaves, birds, rats. Sometimes nothing to eat. They speak they eat Japanese soldier they kill. If they do: that's good.'
I laughed at her explicit descriptions, and shook my head.
'Okay you laugh Jeff. You not laugh then. You be in the mountains too. Or POW. Maybe skinnier than now. They were very bad, the Japanese. Kill plenty Filipinos. Kill our farm animals. Kill all carabao, pig, chicken. We have no food here. Sometimes vegetables. Sometimes only rice. They take everything. Rape plenty women here. If a woman have baby of Japanese, she smash it's head when it born. Nobody want to have Japanese baby. I get pregnant once, in forty-three. Two Japanese rape me. I abort myself. Don't want Japanese piglet.'
I must have reddened in embarrassment at her last revelation, as she looked at me and waved her hand outward.
'Baaa!' she voiced. 'Nothing now Jeff. Long time ago that all happen. Bad war for everyone. MacArthur kill all Japanese in the Philippines. Then they drop mushrooms bombs on Japan. Kill all the people there. Japanese like the Spanish before. Speak they look after the Filipino. Co-prosperity. Baaaa! Prosperity for them, more poverty for the Filipino. Never again anyone invade the Philippines. Too many Filipino now. We love our freedom Jeff. Anyone try invade again, they all die. Same the Huks, they all die. Same the N.P.A., they all die too. Very soon, they all die.'
She shook her head at her own reminiscences, then started to gather her pots for washing. I left her to get on with her chores and went back to my digging. Strange that I was digging where American POW's had dug over forty years before. If Apong's story was to be trusted. I held my doubts. The tale about her getting raped by Japanese soldiers, and becoming pregnant was stretching the limits of credibility. In nineteen-forty-three she would have been fifty-three herself. Women in Asia do seem to be older than their Occidental counterparts when menopause occurs, but fifty-three is pushing it a bit too far.
By early afternoon I had dug the three trenches Lani had marked out for cabbages. Santi and Pulun barrowed quite a pile of rotted manure over for me, and I mixed this with the soil as I backfilled the trenches. Raking them level, I sowed a Greengold variety of cabbage seeds, and covered them with crumbly soil. The trenches I marked with split bamboo staves, a meter in height, and wrote CABBAGE and the sowing date on them in black felt-tipped pen.
When I'd watered the three rows, the soil looked about as fertile as the Gobi Desert. Shit, I thought, this will need fertilising and turning for years before anything grows. I walked to the kitchen and removed the cold water jug from the refrigerator. Pouring a full glass, I downed it thirstily, then refilled. Elena appeared from the living room, armed with a duster and polish.
I'll just finish off my cleaning Jeff, then make some tea for us both,' she informed me. 'You like it out on the patio?'
I said that would be fine.
'How's the digging going?' she asked.
'Pretty good, honey. I've got the cabbages planted, three rows in all. In fact, I'm going to go and carry on with it, and start on the next trenches.'
'Don't you feel tired at all?' she said, looking at me with worry in her expression. 'Sit down and have a rest, for awhile anyway.'
'If I get tired, then I promise I will do. Stop worrying about me: and don't fuss, honey,' I chided her in fun.
Returning to the vegetable plot and the mighty mattock, I marked the next trench and began to dig. On the fourth swing of the mattock something caught in my throat, cutting my aim and delivery short. I leaned over on the mattock shaft and coughed, then hawked. What I spit out was unbelievable. A small, glossy-black prune streaked with phlegm. My eyes rolled in my head. I felt sick. I didn't dare breathe. Then I coughed and hawked again. Another of the foul. black lumps was spit out. Then coughing racked my lungs and I fell to my knees, still supporting myself on the mattock shaft. I've overdone it, I thought. I'm going to die. Now. My coughing abated, and I spit out a similar bloody-black lump: slight smaller than the previous two.
I sat down on the hard soil and gasped. My head felt very light. The euphoria that grips those on the edge of death, I remember thinking to myself. I sat for a few minutes: the afternoon sun grew hot on my back. Should I shout Elena? I didn't dare breathe, never mind shout. Standing once again, I did breathe. Deeply. No pain. No soreness. No discomfort.
Looking at the three grotesque black lumps on the ground before me, I gathered them up in my hand and crept quietly into the house: via the terrace door leading into our bedroom. Closing the bathroom door on myself, I examined the lumps carefully.
Spongy, bloody, flesh-like. Lumps of clotted blood? Lumps of rotten lung? Depositing their foulness into the toilet bowl, I flushed them into oblivion. As I cleaned my teeth and gargled I wondered how it was possible to coughed up three lumps of my lung and feel so little pain? I leaned over the wash basin and forced myself to cough and hawk. Nothing. Only clear spittle came from my mouth. I was worried. No more exertion. Enough is enough. If I cough up any more lumps of lung, then I'd have nothing left to breathe with.
I showered and then dressed in clean shorts. No pain. Nothing. I felt okay, the light-headedness had gone. Elena called me from the patio. The afternoon tea ceremony was ready to begin. I put on my brave, happy, smiling face. I wasn't easy: I was still worried deep inside. Very worried. I came out of the bedroom onto the terrace, and down the steps to the patio.
'Where's Lani?' I asked. 'Not back yet?'
'She's still at Tatang's house. They were washing the pony and grooming him, Santi told me earlier. My father will bring her back shortly,' Elena informed me.
As we sat together drinking Elena commented on my gardening to date. 'The planters look beautiful, Jeff.'
I looked around at the cavity walls. That morning, the seeds I had planted the previous day were sprouting. Now they were a few centimetres in height. I stood, and walked slowly around the planter's perimeter: examining each flower and herb in turn.
'Things grow very fast here, don't they Jeff?' Elena commented. I gave her one of the mystified looks, and sat down again.
'Elena darling, nothing grows that fast; anywhere.
'Perhaps Beezi's friends are helping,' she said.
Beezi! Beezi and her magic circus! Just then, Lani and her grandfather came around the back of the house, Lani skipping down the path, as usual. Santi and Pulun followed: with two more barrows of manure. I swung Lani around in the air, kissed her, then sat her down beside her Mummy.
'How's the riding, petal?' I asked.
'Super. We went all the way to the big river. Then back across the fields at the bottom of the mountain. Tatang was very tired, but I wasn't at all,' she related.
Tatang sat down also, and I walked across to where his sons were piling the barrows of manure. 'Hey boys,' I spoke quietly, 'this is more shit than one man can shovel. How much more you going to bring?'
They laughed, and Santi asked how much more I needed.
'This heap will do nicely for now, thanks. If I need any more, I'll let you know,' I informed them.
We sat together round the patio table, and Elena brought cold soft drinks for her brothers and father: and a thirsty Lani too. Chatting away until dusk started to fall we broke up our little circle and parted company. I helped Elena to clear the table, and washed the crockery as she bathed Lani and herself. A sweet and sour chicken stew was cooking on the stove, alongside the steaming rice pot. I laid the table for dinner then wandered out into the gardens. The drive gates had been closed by one of the boys as they left and I walked to the back of the property to check the gate leading out to the fields. It was locked. Grandma was sat on the verandah of her little house, smoking her long, metal pipe: swaying back and forth in her rocking chair.
'Goodnight Apong,' I called.
'Goodnight Jeff” came the soft reply.
As I strolled along the path in the darkness, I noticed again an eerie light glowing in the window of the toadstool: the fairy house. Beezi's house. The house she would share with her friends. My eyes scanned the horizon over the fields. The moon hadn't started to rise yet. Sitting quietly on the patio, I gazed at the toadstool. The light was steady, then it would swirl, then pulse brighter, then glow steadily again. I though back to my high-school days. Was it Shakespeare, in his Hamlet, who wrote "there was more in heaven and earth than our philosophy could ever comprehend"? Words to that effect. I pondered the enigma deeply.
That afternoon I had coughed up three bloodied, black lumps of rotting lung: rotting bronchus. Yet I hadn't keeled over and died. I felt healthy still. I felt strong. I felt at peace sitting there. No pain. No discomfort. No soreness. What in hell's name was going on? I'd read of people who, when faced with imminent death, alternately prayed to God, then cursed him for their misfortune. Who pleaded, cajoled, and bargained. Perhaps I took a more stoic and philosophical view on my situation - a realistic one. Perhaps I gave up too easily.
I was glad I hadn't started with the chemotherapy treatment. That would have reduced me to a pitiful, weakened, glabrous state very quickly. Santi's .38 was there, waiting. Waiting until the pain grew too much to bear. Everything was ready. I'd prepared as far as I could. The house was completed, the chickens were laying, the broilers were fattening nicely, the hogs too. The sows were all pregnant, the cows were providing ample milk. Yes, everything was thriving: except me.
I was glad Elena had a good family close by. Her brothers tended the stock animals and cultivated the fields, and accepted only a small payment in return: milk, eggs, and rice. It was a good thing too, our cash was dwindling down. Only a few thousand pesos left until we could market our produce. I knew in my heart that Elena and Lani would make out: they would be all-right.
Filipinos are a resourceful people, and help each other: especially in provincial areas. But still the money, or rather the lack of it, worried me. I resolved to sell my motor-bike that following week. It hadn't been used since I returned from Singapore, anyway. Doubtful I would be riding it much as my illness progressed. Elena had the car and two bicycles. No need for a motor-bike too. That would fetch a thousand dollars, at least: twenty thousand pesos. That would tide them over for awhile.
Sammy, my Ridgeback, had come out onto the patio, and sat sniffing at the door of the fairy house: pushing his shiny, black nose into it. I watched with interest, his antics illuminated by the glow from the window set in the upper stalk. He sat bolt-upright, then his head leaned to the extreme left, then to the extreme right, then back to centre. He rose indifferently, and came to lie at my feet.
'Yes Sam,' I said, leaning forward to stroke him, 'It's a strange little house, isn't it?'
Nothing of significant event occurred that evening. We slept early.
Again, the cacophony of cockerels. Again it was dawn. An early dawn: five-forty-five. Elena and I stirred together, embracing each other in our sprawled states, and kissed.
'Good morning, darling,' I kissed her.
'Good morning, Jeff.' she reciprocated.
My hand ran up her bare, smooth stomach, and playfully toyed with the nipple of her left breast as our lips met once more. She groaned, and my hand moved downward to the soft hair above her vulva. Her thighs parted slowly, and my fingers caressed her lips, spreading them until they pressed against her erect peanut.
She moaned more urgently and started to gyrate her buttocks against my fingers. Her hand explored and located my stiffening penis. She stroked me along it's full length, and pulled me over her body. She was already moist, and I entered her in one long stroke. Her hands locked behind my neck, her ankles behind my lower back. I rode her with an intensity and vigour I thought I would never experience again. By the time I reached my climax, Elena had achieved hers, and came again in harmony to my final deep thrusts.
Her legs relaxed their grip, and I rolled over, bringing her to rest above me, still joined: alike a pair of carnal Siamese twins. She smiled down at me, and we kissed.
'You don't seem very ill this morning, Jeffery Hanson,' she teased, grinding her pubic mound against my own, trying to coax my sex to hardness once more. And she did. Playing the part of the jockey, her hands gripping my chest, she rode me at a furious pace until we reached our orgasms together.
Later, lying side by side, she looked at me with great seriousness in her eyes. 'Do you really feel all-right Jeff? Really? Beezi told Lani you were going to get well again. Are you?'
'Do you believe Beezi exists too, Elena?'
'Of course, she's a tree spirit. All the trees here have spirits.'
'And no doubt you can see her too? Her little furry body flying around the garden?' I was half-way serious by this time.
'She doesn't fly Jeff. How did you know she has a fur?' my wife questioned.
'Lani told me. And your grand-mother told me she could see Beezi when she was a little girl. Is this some great leg-pull, or can you really see her?'
'Jeff, your people don't see things like we do. We live alongside nature, attuned to it and we don't abuse it like your people do. Round-eyes come here and think we're all superstitious savages. We are superstitious: but with good reason.'
'Then Beezi does exist? It's her that's causing the light to glow in the toadstool at night? And making the seeds germinate and grow so fast?'
'Of course. Beezi and the other spirits. If you sow seeds here, then the elemental spirits come and care for them. This part of Pangasinan is a very blessed part of the Philippines. This valley, between the mountains, at the confluence of the two big rivers, is very blessed. That's why you find Ilocanos living here: so far south from Ilocos. We found this valley and settled here three thousand years ago.'
I hadn't mentioned the blood in my phlegm, nor coughing up the three black lumps the previous day, to Elena. But, I was feeling better when my mind told me I shouldn't be.
'And you believe that Beezi is going to cure me?' I pressed Elena.
'She told Lani you were going to get well. So you will,' Elena replied. 'The spirits never deceive or lie.'
'Listen sugar, I don't know what to believe. I do feel better. I feel stronger, and my appetite is back. But there are some weird things happening here this past few days.'
'Is any part of it bad for us Jeff? Is anything hurting our lives?' she implored.
'No, from what I've seen, no part of it is bad. It's all beneficial: for me, anyway. But it's not natural Elena.'
She smiled, and rose from the bed, encircling her light brown body with a tapis: a cotton sarong. 'Jeff, that's the round-eye in you talking. It's all natural. It would be unnatural for us if it didn't happen.'
She left me lying there, pondering her last statement. It's bloody crazy, I told myself. The top cancer specialist in Singapore tells me I'm going to die if I don't enter hospital for immediate treatment. The doctor at Makati Medical informs me the tumours are growing, and a third has formed in my right lung. And along comes my daughter's imaginary friend: a furry fairy, a tree spirit, and says she's going to cure me.
I wanted to believe, I really did. Who wants to die of cancer? Of anything at my age. Yet, to be certain, I had to go to Manila for X-rays again. Shit, why build my hopes up just because I felt a bit better the last couple of days. In fact, I felt as though I was dying when I'd coughed up the three lumps before. But I hadn't died,had I?
I'll take the motor-bike to Manila next week, I decided, and get an X-ray done once the bike's sold. And that was the bargain I struck with myself that morning. And the following week I did go to Manila: but not to sell my motor-bike.
Coming back to that same morning, I rose and showered. No gagging as I brushed my teeth. No coughing. No hawking. No pain. Nothing. By the time I dressed in my usual shorts and trainers, Elena had breakfast ready for me. Breakfast? A slice of papaya, doused in calamansi juice, two cloves of raw garlic and a knob of ginger, a bowl of muesli and goat’s milk – dusted with turmeric, and a glass of mango juice. Yes, breakfast. My new dietary regime. Beezi's menu. If this was part of the cure, then so be it.
Lani came wandering into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. 'Morning, Miss Pretty,' I greeted her. 'Just woken up?'
She climbed up into her Mummy's lap. 'Good morning, sweetie, how are you this morning?' Elena asked.
'I had a funny dream last night,' Lani related, 'I dreamed we had a lot of money and went to America to see Daddy's Mummy and Daddy. And we went to Disneyland too. And we went in a big jet aeroplane with lots of seats, and we sat in the front where they had big seats.'
Elena and I both laughed. 'That's a pretty ambitious, first-class dream, dolly.' I told her.
'Can we go Mummy?' Lani asked. 'In the big aeroplane? And to Disneyland?'
'One day maybe, sweetheart. We can't afford to now because Daddy doesn't have a job anymore.'
'But he can get his job back again now he's well again,' Lani implored.
'Listen Lani,' I began, 'next week I'm going to Manila, and while I'm there I'll go and see the doctor again. If I am getting well, then he will know, and I can ask for my old job back.'
She nodded her head: assent to my proposal had been given.
'I'm going to clean my teeth,' she stated, and left us at the table.
'Are you going to Manila next week, Jeff?' Elena inquired.
'Ah-ha. Taking the motor-bike with me. I'm going to sell it. We need the money more than I need the bike right now.'
She didn't disagree one iota. Elena had never given her wholehearted approval to me using the Honda 200 XL-R for trail riding across the open countryside. She feared I'd injure myself with it when I went tear-arsing up and down hills and creeks. I'm sure our wives worry about us more than our mothers ever did.
Breakfast eaten, I went out to resume my digging. Take it slowly, I told myself. You don't want to cough up any more lumps like you did yesterday. But I felt okay: strong and robust. The flowers and herbs in the planter wall were fifteen centimetres high! The cabbage seeds I had planted the previous day had sprouted, and stood three centimetres. All very weird indeed. I took my watering can and gave them a light shower.
A new vigour was behind each swing I took with the mattock that morning. I shovelled the next trench out, and hacked down again to a depth of almost a meter. Then I backfilled with a mixture of soil and manure. 'Get some fibre into the soil,' as my father would explain when I was a child.
Lani had been sorting through the shoe box of seeds, and came over to me with a packet of baby carrot variety.
'Can we plant these here, in this one?' she asked, pointing to the row I had just prepared.
'Sure, dolly, how many rows?'
'Two rows,' she replied. 'Then we have to make circles in the soil for the melons.'
'Circles? What kind of circles, Lani?'
She found her bamboo cane, and marked our four circles of a meter across, and a meter and a half in between them.
'Hills! You want to plant the watermelons in hills?'
'Yes, but only three seed in one circle,' my gardening supervisor informed me before dancing off up the path to see her great-grandmother.
I dug the second carrot trench, and once backfilled, sowed both rows and watered them down. Next came the four watermelon hills. And so it continued, over the following three days. Each time I completed one row Lani would pop up and tell me what to plant next: always marking out the rows or hills where Beezi instructed her. Each morning I came out into the back garden, and whatever I'd planted the previous day had germinated and sprouted.
The herbs had grown into profuse bunches of green, with heads forming on the parsley. The flowers were all in bloom and I no longer speculated or questioned: just dug and planted. How in hell could I continue to be sceptical? The cabbages were twenty centimetres in height, with firmly formed centres. The carrots had sprouted well: fine, green tops on them. The watermelons were meandering their growths around the hills. The tomato plants had four leaves. And so it went on: the Hanson's Miracle Growth Garden.
It was a Saturday morning. I planned to drive down to Manila on the coming Monday. Over half the intended vegetable plot was cultivated and sown. Thus I continued that morning, swinging the mattock. First the point, then the blade. This trench was for shallots.
While I was shovelling out the last level of the trench, down to a meter in depth, I noticed a large white glacial pebble: the size of a rock melon. Look very nice on the rockery I intended building, I thought, easing it out of the soil with the edge of my spade. Oh my God! It was a skull. A human skull. Now, I'm not by any means a squeamish sort of guy: but a skull? I respect the taboos surrounding death and burial, and had no wish to inadvertently disturb someone's grave.
I laid the skull at the far end of the trench, and probed around for the skeleton with my spade. If I could find it, then perhaps we might have the remains moved to a proper cemetery. Nothing - just the skull.
I examined the skull again. It could have been there for centuries. Turning it in my hands I noticed two of the teeth were capped with a silver metal: the top centre incisors. Now, I'm no dentist nor historian, but I do know that capping teeth was not a practice carried out in the distant past.
'What you find Jeff?' It was Apong. She was walking across the garden toward me. She looked at the skull in my hands, and tears came to her dark, rheumy eyes. 'That was Mac,' she said softly, 'Billy Mac. His teeth were like that. We thought they take them all away: in the trucks.' She squatted down beside the trench, wiping the tears from her face and eyes with the hem of her skirt. I recalled our conversation of a few days earlier.
'He was an American POW?' I asked.
She nodded her head slowly. 'He was a nice boy. They all were. The pigs killed them, they never take them away. They kill them all, bury them here. Buried here, somewhere.' She took the skull from me, and cradled it in her arms.
'I think I better curtail my digging Apong,' I told her.
'You dig Jeff," she said, shaking her grey-haired head. 'You keep digging. We find them all. Bury them at Baracbat. In the cemetery.' She moved over and re-squatted to one side of the trench. I shovelled out the remainder of the loose soil then took the trench down one more level with the mattock. More sand here, I noticed, a bit easier going. Then I hit it. Metal! Apong and I looked at each other. She shook her head. We were both at a loss.
Apong had wrapped the skull in her shawl, and it lay in the lap of her skirt. I took up the shovel and worked my way around the edges of the object I'd hit with the mattock. It was rectangular. About sixty centimetres by twenty. I dug my spade underneath it. There were swing handles set in their end. Grasping hold of one handle, I attempted to pull the metal box free of the earth. What a bloody weight. But I eventually managed to ease it out of its hole and into the trench.
An ammunition box, marked with Chinese characters - no, Japanese script. It was remarkably well preserved in the hard, dry soil. I smashed off the padlock with the spade's edge, and forced the top open. It was filled with canvas bags. I pulled one from the box and opened it on the ground between Apong and myself. Hell's teeth! Gold coins!
I examined them closely, Apong too. British sovereigns and Straits Settlements gold pieces.
'This is what they bring on the trucks Jeff,' Apong speculated. “Chichibu and Yamashita - treasure.”.
'But this is British coinage? Colonial coinage, from Singapore and Malaya?' I questioned.
'The Japanese make war all over Asia. They loot many places. Gold from the museums. Gold from the cathedrals. Gold from the banks. They make us use banana money. Their paper. No good their paper Jeff.'
'Apong, not a word about this to anyone. Not to Tatang, not to Elena. Nobody, okay? Not for now. Let's see what else I come up with first.'
'I say nothing Jeff. You say nothing. I say nothing. We rich now eh, Jeff,' she giggled to herself a little, then she rose and shuffled back across the garden to her house: the POW's skull still wrapped in her shawl.
I carried the canvass bags into our bedroom via the terrace doorway, and secreted them in my wardrobe. Returning to the trench, I closed the ammunition box and reinserted it into its original hole: covering it with loose soil. Then I began to swing the mattock with a fresh determination.
Lani appeared early that afternoon to inspect my work. She had been out pony riding with her Tatang all morning.
'That one is very deep, Daddy,' she commented.
'Listen sugar, Daddy wants to dig some more trenches before he plants any more seeds. Is that okay?'
'Oh!' she exclaimed, 'You found the gold!'
My mouth dropped open in total surprise.
'Ssssh,' I admonished, “how did you know I found some gold?'
'Because Beezi said you would. Did you find the man's head bone too?'
'Yes, honey,' I said quietly,' I found it. Your Apong is taking care of it for now. Did Beezi tell you that I'd find the . . . . . head bone?'
'Mmm-hmm,' came the reply. 'The soldiers chopped his head off with a big sword because he hit one of them with his spade.'
'Beezi told you that?' I questioned gently, sitting on the edge of the trench.
'Mmm-hmm,' her reply again.
'Did Beezi tell you if there are any more soldiers or men buried here?' I asked, indicated the vegetable plot area with a sweep of my hand.
'They buried them all in the field over there,' she pointed to the rice fields beyond the garden. 'Only the gold's here now. And the archy-facts.'
'Where does archy-facts come from, dolly?' I asked smiling.
'Beezi said that there are lots of archy-facts here too. The soldiers made the other men bury them in tins,' Lani replied.
Artifacts! The plunder from the museums!
'Lani, you mustn't say anything to anyone about this just yet. Not until I've talked to Mummy, and we decide what to do with the stuff I dig up.'
'Course not, silly. Beezi told me that already.'
Beezi - she was turning out to be a good friend. Pity I couldn't see her. See her to say "thank you". Thanks for everything. Thanks for the good fortune. Thanks for my life. Yes, by that time, I truly believed the cancer had gone from my body. I believed I was going to live.
I carried on with my digging until dusk fell. I hadn't mentioned anything to Elena during the afternoon tea ritual. She called to me as the darkness gained its nightly hold over the land.
'Dinner, Jeff. Come and get showered, then we can eat.'
My afternoon's digging had been very fruitful, and all I unearthed was stored away in our rice bodega - the brick storage shed built next to the piggery.
Two more boxes of gold coins. Three boxes containing 5 kilo bars of gold bullion. Five boxes of gold figurines. A box of ivory figurines with precious stones. Two boxes of jewellery, and a box of cut gems: mainly rubies and sapphires, all bagged in canvas.
When Lani was in bed that evening, I led Elena into our room and showed her the coins I had discovered initially that morning. She gasped then looked at me. I explained what had transpired, and of the conversation with her grandmother: of that morning and the one a few days previously.
'But who does it belong to now Jeff?' she asked intently.
'To you, in my reckoning,' I replied. 'It was looted from all over Asia. If we tried to return it to the rightful owners, then it would be tied up in government bureaucracy and never see the light of day for years, if ever. I say we keep it quiet, and dispose of it bit by bit. Do some good for the barrio here. Build a school and a clinic. Put in irrigation wells. Make the money work for the benefit of the whole barrio: and ourselves.'
'It was Apong's land before we bought it, Jeff. We have to share it with her.'
'I fully intend to Elena. All I want to do is keep the find quiet amongst ourselves.”
She nodded her assent, and kissed me.
The Sunday and Monday morning were spent continuing my excavations. By Monday lunch-time I had covered the whole of the intended vegetable plot. The rice bodega had become a virtual treasure house. Boxes of bullion bars, boxes of gold coins, boxes of cut and uncut gems, boxes of archy-facts. The plundered treasures of Asia.
I spent the Monday afternoon back-filling the trenches, and mixing in manure. Then I raked the whole area flat, and sowed seeds under Lani's directions. All were duly watered down, and left to grow under the protection of Beezi's friends.
The cabbages were the size of footballs: and planted only a week previously. Leafy, green, and solid. Everything was growing well. That night, as I locked the garden gate, I notice the light in the fairy house was glowing brighter than ever. "Thank you, Beezi," I murmered, walking past her little home.
The following morning, the Tuesday, I packed my hold-all and loaded it into the boot of the car. Inside was a 5 kilo bar of gold, and ten British gold sovereigns. No need to take the motor bike now.
I bade Elena and Lani good-bye for a few days, and set out on the drive to Manila.
Once I had checked into a hotel, I rang the Makati Medical Centre and made an appointment to see Doctor Cortez the following morning. Then I walked to Flores Street to visit an old friend of mine: Chia, A Chinese-Filipino, who ran a small grocery store cum photographer's shop.
'Hey, Jeffy, how you?' He called as I entered the shop. 'You bin wookin India?'
'Hello Chia. Yes, I've been out of circulation for awhile. How are things with you and the family?'
'You know my dowta Choy? She get married one week already. Very big wedding. Cost plenty. I invite you, but never see. So can't invite. How Elena and Lani?'
'Elena and Lani are both fine Chia. Give my congratulations to Choy, I'm sorry we missed the wedding.'
'Ah, no problem Jeffy. I only make joking to you. What you want? Film developing? You bin diving Lingayen again? Good colour last time I do developing for you, yea?'
'Always Chia, that's why I keep coming back to you,' I bantered. 'You still have plenty of friends in Santa Cruz? In Chinatown?'
He looked at me with a vague expression.
'You see Chia, while I was diving off Lingayen last week, I found the wreck of a Japanese destroyer. It must have been sunk during the Second World War. Lots of gold on board it.'
His small, slit eyelids opened wide, his mouth followed suit.
'If you know a reliable dealer in Santa Cruz who will buy from me and keep quiet, then it's worth ten per cent of a kilo in your own pocket,' I informed him .
'Whey gold now Jeffy?' he asked.
I indicated the small rucksack slung over my right shoulder. The 5 kilo bar was inside, wrapped in a bath towel. he jabbered away in Cantonese to his dozing assistant, who aroused himself to take charge of the premises.
'We go Ong Pin Street. Close relation mine have jewellery store there. We go my car, okay?'
Climbing aboard his yellow Datsun, only two years old but a battered relic already, we set off into the traffic. Weaving our way through the jeepneys and afternoon smog, we drove out of Ermita, across the Pasig River, and into Santa Cruz.
'This man I take you good guy. Cousin of my mother. Plenty bad man Chinatown. Good you speak me first. Plenty triad, plenty gangster. Plenty bad fucker. This man, he give you good price. Do good business.'
We made our way through the narrow streets of Santa Cruz, and entered the one-way traffic of Ong Pin Street. It had to be one-way as no two vehicles wide than bicycles could pass each other.
Pulling off the street, Chia parked in a space set alongside a jewellery store. He double-checked all the doors and windows were securely shut as I looked around. Apart from the suspended presence of fluorescent signs, we could have stepped back a couple of centuries. I doubted much had changed here since the original Chinese immigrants settled in Santa Cruz - the Sangleys. The Spanish colonists had massacred them on two separate occasions, but they were still here. Business as usual: massacres not withstanding. Just a stone's throw from City Hall really, but nobody bothered them. The Chinese community looked after themselves.
Chia led the way into the jewellery store, me at his heels. He spoke in rapid Cantonese to the young Chinese assistant, and she disappeared into the back of the shop. Returning a few moments later, she was followed by a Chinese gentleman dressed in a three-piece suit. Chia and the Chinese rattled away in earnest in their own dialect, both leaning on the glass counter top. The mother's cousin, who appeared to be more fitted as Chia's nephew, occasionally glanced over Chia's shoulder at me before resuming their conversation.
Chia stood upright and turned to me. 'Okay Jeffy, come on.'
We followed the Chinese through into the back of the building. There was a workshop located to the left, but I was shown into a secluded office to the right. The mother's cousin indicated a chair by his desk, so I may sit down.
'Chia say you diver. You scuba-diver. He develop plenty photograph for you of coral and fish,' he stated.
'Yes, but I'm only a sports diver though. My hobby,' I corrected.
'Say you find Japanese wreck at Lingayen. Say you find plenty gold on wreck. What name ship have?'
'It's too old and broken up to get the name, the hull's very encrusted with barnacles. No sign of the ship's bell, either. But all the bridge controls are marked in Japanese.'
He studied my face for a long moment. 'You got gold here, hea? Let me see.'
I unfastened the rucksack and produced the towel. Unwrapping it on his desk I revealed the 5 kilo bar and handed it to him. He set it down with a clunk on his blotter. Chia drew closer, and leaned over the desk. The merchant turned it slowly then examined the assay markings with obvious interest.
'This American bullion,' he stated. 'Nineteen-Thirties mould marking. Japanese plunder. You wanna sell, yea?'
I informed him that was the general idea of my visit.
'I take scraping first. Check purity. Okay?'
Nodding my head to confirm he might do so, he produced a small, wooden-handled chisel from his desk drawer and carved a sliver from one corner. He turned the ingot over then took a second scraping from its base. Covering the bullion bar with the towel he rose from the desk.
'I go check in workshop,' he spoke: indicating the two slivers held between his finger and thumb.
As soon as he had left the room, and the door closed, Chia reached across the desk and grabbed an abacus. Standing upright with it in his hands, the wooden balls shot up and down their respective shafts with speedy precision. Clack-clack. Clack-clack-clack.
'Today's price it give you almost three hundred thousand pesos for one kilo Jeffy,' he informed me as his calculations were completed. Yes, I knew. I'd already worked out my prices before I had left Pangasinan.
The jeweller-cousin returned and sat at his desk again.
'How much gold bar on Japanese ship?' he asked.
'Plenty,' I replied.
'How much plenty? One hundred kilos? One thousand kilos?'
'Well over one hundred kilos,' I said.
'Okay, You market through me? Ten kilos every month? I pay you pesos or dollar American: whatever you want.'
'Let's establish a business relationship with this first five kilos, then we can discuss future deals,' I advised.
'Okay. We do. Gold purity good. He rose from his desk and took the ingot over to a large weighing scale set on a side table. Quickly adjusting it and adding weights to the opposite pan, the scale levelled out. He returned to the desk and set the gold bar down between us.
'Today's price I give you . . . . . .' and paused as he picked up the abacus and calculated the kilo's worth.
'I give you two hundred and fifty thousand pesos a kilo price – then it leave me good margin for profit after smelting and remoulding. That okay?' he said, laying the archaic calculator down.
I agreed the price was fair.
'I give you cash or cheque?' he asked.
'Cash please, if that's all-right with you?'
He smiled, and rose from his chair. Wagging a finger at Chia he said 'Nobody take cheque from Chinese, eh. Nobody trust Chinese cheque.'
Swinging a narra cabinet away from the wall, he revealed a huge safe. After turning the combination dial back and forth, he cranked the handle, and the thick steel door swung open. He leaned inside and brought blocks of ten thousand peso bundles to the desk: all in five hundred peso notes. Counting out a stack he closed the safe's door, spun the combination, and swung the cabinet back into place. It was only then that I noticed the 5 kilo bar no longer lay on the desk, but was now locked inside his safe. Chinese sleight of hand. Oriental legerdemain.
'Okay. One million, two hundred and fifty thousand,' he stated, recounting the bundles as he stacked them on my side of the desk. I counted ten five hundred bills off a bundle and pocketed them, then handed the bundle to Chia, along with a further two full bundles. The jeweller looked at me questioningly.
'Chia's ten percent for introducing me to an honest merchant,' I informed him.
He launched into Chia with a scolding diatribe of Cantonese. Chia lowered his head, and laid the money back on the desk, looking saddened.
'Oh no," I stated bluntly, 'I offered Chia ten per cent of the first kilo if he introduced me to you. He asked for nothing. The money's his: and that's final.'
'Sorry. I misunderstanding you. I think Chia he ask for money to bring you here.' He spoke to Chia gain in rapid Cantonese. Chia smiled, and pocketed the bundles of currency.
'So, we can do good business every month, ha?' the jeweller asked me. "Ten kilos every month. At gold price of that day?'
'Ten kilos each month: if you pay me in U.S. dollars,' I stated.
'Okay, Can do easy.' He handed me his business card. Mr. Ng Kit Hong.
'What do I call you - Ng or Hong?' I inquired.
'Call me Ng. We good friends now. Business partner. You call this number one day before you come with bullion, he indicated his telephone number on the business card, 'then I get dollars ready for you. You want I should give you bodyguard?'
I smiled widely, and declined his offer. With the pesos packed into my rucksack, Chia and I bade Ng a good afternoon and left.
'Jeffy,' Chia spoke as we drove back across the city, 'it very good what you pay me. That no problem for you?'
I assured him I was happy with his mother's cousin, and our established business arrangement, and the fee I'd promised him was fine with me. He was all smiles as we parked outside his store. I thanked him for his assistance, and said goodbye.
Returning to my hotel, I packed the bundles of pesos into my double combination lock Halliburton attaché case. So far, so good.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent visiting the numerous coin dealers in Ermita, selling a sovereign in each one. They too brought a good price. My cup ranneth over, as the Bible says. It really did.
The following morning I arrived for my appointment with Doctor Cortez at ten o'clock precisely. I was duly ushered into his office, and he was very surprised to see me: especially in such a healthy state of being.
'Mr. Hanson, you are looking very well indeed. Quite the opposite of what I expected,' he commented.
'I went to see a faith healer in Pangasinan, doctor,' I pronounced.
'You mentioned to my secretary when you rang yesterday that you wish to have a chest X-ray taken again. Is that correct?'
'Yes I want to be certain that the tumours are either gone or in remission,' I replied.
He nodded, and scribbled on a form he drew from his desk drawer. 'Take this along to the X-ray department, and my nurse will call you once the plate is developed.'
There was quite a look of disbelief in his eyes as I thanked him, and left his surgery. I waited at the X-ray room for a few minutes, and was ushered in to be photographed. Once the X-ray was taken, I returned to the general waiting area until my name was called. I sat browsing through a magazine until Doctor Cortez' nurse summoned me, and I followed her back to his office. Ah, the speed and efficiency of private clinics.
He had the plate fixed to his illuminated panel, along with my previous X-ray plates. 'What was the name of the faith healer you saw, Mr. Hanson?' he inquired.
'A Miss Beezi,' I answered, smiling a little to myself.
'Well, she certainly came through for you. All three tumours have gone. There is no trace of their presence, nor of scar tissue. May I examine your chest, please?' he requested.
I removed my shirt and his fingers probed my throat and chest. 'Did she use psychic surgery?' he asked.
'No, pure faith alone: that was all,' I replied.
He gestured I could dress again, and sat behind his desk. 'A Miss Beezi, you say?' He wrote the name on a memo pad. 'Where in Pangasinan is she located?'
'I don't really know Doctor. In fact, it was she that found me,' I informed him.
'If you happen to come across her again, perhaps you might let me have her address. I'd be most interested to meet her,' he related.
'Yes doctor, so would I,' I thought to myself.
I thanked him for his time, settled my bill and left the clinical smells behind me. Walking to where my car was parked, I sat with my hands resting on the steering wheel. It's all true, I thought, every bit of it. Although, by that time, scepticism was no longer one of my failings.
Driving back across the city to my hotel, I parked the car on the forecourt and went to my room. There I packed my small rucksack with a pen and writing pad, and walked the two blocks to the National Archives on Kalaw Street. I filled in the request form and sat waiting at a table in the research library until the folios were brought to me. Eventually, they arrived: quite a bundle of them too. I thanked the assistant, and signed for them.
Opening the first folio, I saw a photograph of my prey. Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita. The Tiger of Malaya. Commander of the Japanese Occupation Army of the Philippines. The Samurai Son. The Bushido Warrior.
I spent most of that afternoon at the archives, taking notes from the dusty, yellowed folios, and surrendering them to the requests desk once the closing call was announced. Back in my hotel room that evening, I studied the notes.
Tomoyuki Yamashita - rumoured to have secreted tons of gold bullion, jewellery, and priceless Asian art objects – the Golden Lily treasure - before his eventual capture by American troops invading Luzon in 1945. The treasure was reported to have been plundered from all over South-East Asia, and Yamashita used American POWs to bury it at one hundred and seventy two locations throughout the archipelago: including ships scuttled offshore. So, at least my story to Ng about the sunken Japanese destroyer off Lingayen held some credence.
But here the story took a twist for a parallel branch of my research indicated that Emperor Hirohito’s younger brother, Prince Chichibu (Chichibu no miya Yasuhito Shinnō) was Golden Lily's principal overseer – with such fellow scoundrels as Rear Admiral Yoshio Kodama and Colonel Masanobu Tsuji, the self-promoting Japanese God of Strategy - the scumbag responsible for the Bataan Death March and regarded as the most notorious Japanese war criminal to escape trial.
The POWs were believed to have been executed once the treasure was buried: to keep the locations secret, but Yamashita ended up a patsy and was tried for the war crimes of Chichibu, Kodama and Tsuji and executed in 1946. The locations of the burial sites of the plundered treasure were presumed to have gone to the grave with his falsely maligned memory and corpse.
Two caches of treasure were unearthed, during the seventies and early eighties: both attributed to Yamashita's plunder. A professional treasure hunter discovered the first known cache in 1971, and had it promptly confiscated by the Marcos government, quite unceremoniously. The next cache was discovered in 1981, during a bull-dozer excavation, and treasure fever swamped the whole area. Nothing since. Not until now. And in view of the last two recorded finds and their consequences, I was saying nothing.
I returned home the following morning. Home to Elena, home to Lani, Home to Beezi. As I pulled into the driveway and parked in the garage, Lani came running out of the house to me.
'Daddy, Daddy, what did the doctor say?'
I gathered her up in my arms and embraced her. 'He says I'm well again, petal. Thanks to you and Beezi.'
'I told you didn't I?' Lani reminded me. 'Beezi said she'd make you better again.'
Elena was standing by the door as I carried Lani in one arm, and my hold-all in my spare hand. She smiled and kissed me. A knowing smile. 'Told you too, didn't I Jeff?' she whispered.
The following morning, Elena drove herself and Apong to Mangatarem, to make substantial deposits in their savings accounts at the bank. Lani and I worked in the vegetable plot most of the day. Have you ever picked a fifteen kilo cabbage, or a half-meter long carrot? It’s quite an experience. I extended the vegetable plot a further ten meters along the boundary wall that following week. By the time it was completed and sown I had unearthed a total of twenty-three boxes of plundered treasure from the extension: mainly bullion and uncut gems. Lani and Beezi were satisfied with their vegetable plot, so I began then to landscape the whole of the gardens. Anywhere I dug in the back garden, ammunition boxes were unearthed. I presume you can guess what they contained.
My monthly trips to Manila, to Ng, continued for quite some time: until Elena and I had the cash available to carry out our plans. Until we built a medical clinic and new school for our barrio. Until the windmills were erected to power irrigation pumps. Until the rice mill was completed to service the barrio's crops. Until the dusty lane leading to our barrio was surfaced with concrete.
I never tried to regain my old job in Singapore: I was too busy at home setting up my own construction company. We carried out all the barrio building projects.
Beezi, through the medium of Lani, showed us where the murdered American POW's were buried in our rice fields. We erected a marble memorial over the spot: Mac's skull was interred beneath it. The following year, once all our projects were done we visited the States: my parents and Disneyland, flying first-class. I celebrated my thirty-sixth birthday there. Apong never saw in her century, she passed away quietly in her sleep while we were on holiday in America. I still miss my talks with her, even to this day.
My monthly visits to Ng had ceased just prior to our holiday, when I informed him all the bullion had been salvaged. An amusing story reached my ears when we returned home at the end of our grand American tour. A group of Chinese-Filipino businessmen from Santa Cruz had opened a diving club at Lingayen, and were searching for World War Two wrecks out in the gulf. I never heard of them discovering anything of interest.
The land around our house has never been fully excavated to this day. Lani's daughter, my first grandchild, has a friend called Beezi now. She tells me there is still a lot of gold buried in the garden. Our secret, I remind her. The treasure I unearthed all those years ago remains buried under our rice bodega, where I hid it for safekeeping. For the uncertain futures that history seems to provide. For posterity. For my grandchildren's grandchildren.
I still enjoy my gardening, and am usually out there cultivating the flowers and herbs, the vegetables and shrubs, and the lawns, just after dawn each morning. We still grow three kilo tomatoes, ten kilo lettuce, and so on. Our little Garden of Eden. Beezi's garden. Where she and her friends work and play.
Quite often I sit on the back patio in the late afternoon, just enjoying the sultry dusk as evening approaches. Yes, just sit and watch as a swirling white light begins to emanate from the window of the picturesque toadstool. From the fairy house. The house where Beezi lives. The house she shares with her friends.