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The 36th of Michael Benedicto
The 36th of Michael Benedicto
Author: zeltan

Chapter 1

Manila

Feast of the Nazarene, the air was cool and crisp. It was the second

week of January 1997. Thousands of people gathered on the street

during the parade of the Black Nazarene. Amidst the coolness of the

weather, everybody’s sweating due to the heavy crowd. Some are

praying, crying, shouting and some even fainted.

On the second floor in one of the houses in a small alley in San

Andres, two people were getting intimate , Sabel, 38, and

Michael, 23 years old. Aunt Sabel, as Michael fondly calls her when he

was young was his mom’s friend. She owns a small store while her

husband, Tony, works in the Municipal Hall of Metro Manila as a

security guard. She has two teenage daughters.

Overcame with passion, they were oblivious to their surroundings.

Suddenly, Oliver, Mike’s childhood friend shouted that Sabel’s husband

is coming. Micheal Jumped out of the window to find Tony face to

face. He was holding a baton and was about strike Mike on the head

when he heard a click behind him. Oliver was holding a revolver. He

was aiming it to Tony’s head while Mike started his motor and sped off.

Mike thanked his friends for covering for him while Tony was cursing.

Michael Benedicto, young, handsome and notorious with women. He

was born and grew up in Punta, Santa Ana Manila but moved to

Benavidez Binondo, the Chinatown of Manila a year after his father died

when he was two years old. His mom's ancestral home in Binondo was

big and old. It was a three-story house made of Tiesa wood and

Mahogany. It has many rooms and once belonged to his grandparents

on his mothers’ side. His mother is half Chinese and his Chinese

grandfather once used this house as a brothel and a gambling place.

When her mother’s parents died, the children abandoned the place and

had their own lives. Only Michael’s family came back to this house. His

mother had the rooms rented at an affordable price. It was usually

occupied because it is cheap and most people who stayed here were

transient. Some of them had odd jobs.

Michael’s father was hailed in Iloilo city, a good-natured and

hardworking man. He’s a mestizo with Spanish ancestry. He was once

a seminarian in one of the congregations in Santa Cruz Manila when he

was smitten by the beautiful and sweet Esmeralda. They were young

and in love and so in 1970, they eloped.  Agnes was born in 1971,

Esther in 1972, and Michael in 1974. Life was doing fine. The young

couple was able to live a modest life in Sta. Ana Manila. Nestor worked

in Asahi Manufacturing Company as Production Head while Esmeralda

sells native delicacies like rice cakes. They were happy until Nestor died

of a heart attack. It was so sudden nobody was prepared for it. Michael

was barely walking at that time and his two older sisters were too

young then as well. His mother was in grief for one year until she

decided to sell their house in Santa Ana and move to Binondo.

The Benedicto children grew up well with the help of their aunt Victoria,

Esmeralda’s younger sister was then a teenager. She loves

Michael so much and he adores her. Wherever Aunt Victoria goes, he’s

with her. The time came when he has to undergo circumcision and his

mom wanted to accompany him but he refused. He only wanted his

aunt Victoria. When he turned eleven years old, a man came to their

house and talked to his mom. He was asking Victoria’s hand in

marriage. Young Michael didn’t understand anything about it until his

aunt had to move out of their house. He felt abandoned.

Priesthood is not a very enticing vocation for young Mike. He’d rather

go with his friends and play pool, or smoke cigars and once in a while,

dope. Nevertheless, he is a very caring brother and son to his mother.

He was able to finish High School but didn’t go to college. He was not

very fascinated in school so he accepted odd jobs like selling

newspapers, run errands, help at stores and sell things. Binondo is a

big town where everything sells as long as it has value. He loves

making money a lot- and older women. At night he used to eavesdrop

on some of their tenants and watch them undress. But he’s most

fascinated with married women especially single mothers. There’s

something in them that enamors him. It transcends from his manhood

to his soul. Maybe it’s their vulnerability or their nurturing.

2019

My name is Cheska. Francheska Denise Dela Cruz. I am 20 years old.

My hometown is in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija but for half of my life, I

stayed here in Manila. I finished Elementary in my hometown and I

studied High School in St. Scholastica in Remedios St. Malate, Manila. I

stayed at my aunt's house in Leon Guinto and studied college at Miriam

College. During my college years, I stayed in a condominium so, I was

practically on my own though not all the time. I always had a

companion, mostly men of various ages and lifestyles. I am

promiscuous. I am not a nympho but mostly because I was lonely.

Growing up, I used to be close to my dad. I was a daddy’s girl. I

always go with him whenever he goes to our rice plantation and rice

mills. He used to be very proud of me and calls me his angel. His

angel, until I reached the age of 12. Many people were telling him that

I don’t look like him. My skin is white, I have a long, slightly upturned

nose, deep-set of eyes with the color of brown. My face is heart-

shaped, which I got from my mother. None from my father who has

brown skin and big, black eyes. My cousins started teasing me that I

was just my mother’s daughter, not my dad.

My dad became distant, cold, and uncaring. My mother is beautiful.

They said I looked like her.

She used to represent Queen Elena during

Santacruzan, a ritual pageant in Flowers of May festival in their town

when she was a teenager. I used to ask my mom If my dad was truly

my father. She would look at me and tells me I was being ridiculous.

My dad used to go abroad before I was born. My mom was working in

Manila when they met. My mom’s friend and godmother said it was

love at first sight. My dad went back abroad for one year and came

back to be with my mom. He brought my mom here in his hometown

and started a business. He bought a farm and had it rented to the

farmers. For the remaining part of the land, he hired people to grow

rice and corn.

I was 16 when I realized the truth. I was not indeed my father’s

daughter. No need for DNA to prove that. Staring at my beautiful face

in front of a mirror in a cheap motel, I can’t help but ask, “Who are

you?” while I was with a man whom I met at a party. He was telling

me over and over that, I drove him crazy. That was the last time I saw

him.

A few months after I finished University, I got a call from one of the

prestigious publishing companies in the metro- Lunar Publishing

Company. The owner and Editor-in-Chief is Dale Trinidad, a lesbian. I

saw him made a speech in our school back in college and I must say, I

was dazzled by him. He has an androgynous personality. He was in my

mind the whole semester.

I never expected them to call me. I was asked to go directly to Sir

Dale’s office. His room was quite big but I must say, not quite as I

expected. It was rather plain, simple. With some books on the

bookshelf on the right, a computer and a laptop on his desk, some

office chairs, and that’s it. But his presence, there’s something about

him. A kind of panache combined with an enigma that could drive a

woman crazy. He’s in his mid-40s but he still looks in his 30s. Tall, slim

and seems to be of Chinese descent. He introduced himself and had a

quick interview. My heart was pounding wildly but I have to keep my

head. He has a timid smile but his eyes- his eyes stare back at me as if

he can see through my soul.

After the interview, he said that they will call. When I stepped out of

her office, there was a long line of applicants for the five positions. My

luck was slim. I went straight to the restroom and washed my face. I

was contemplating what I should do with my life when the door opened

and Sir Dale stepped in. I felt awkward. He smiled at me and he

washed his hands. “Tough day, huh?” he said. “Yes” was all I can

answer. I told him I have to go and he nodded. When I was about to

leave, he called me, “Cheska, you’re beautiful”. I was a bit surprised,

he called me using my nickname. I answered, “Thank you” and I went

out of their office. As I was walking along the street of Emerald Avenue

in Ortigas towards my condo, I couldn’t help but asked myself, what

was that all about? That night, I couldn’t get him out of my head.

Before I drift off to sleep, I received a message from Amanda. Dale’s

secretary. I got the job and I have to report to the office by 11 am for

my first assignment.

Before 10:30 am I was already in their office at Orient Square. I met

my team leader Ms. Therese. We were given a brief orientation about

the company. Immediately we had a brainstorm. There were five of us

new editors and writers and we were given a task to go to a particular

place or talk to a certain person. It was not easy because you’ll be

talking to a stranger without knowing their intentions. It’s a risky job

but the compensation is good. Dale is mild-tempered and listens to

ideas.

By 1 pm, our lunch arrived. They’ve ordered Korean food. I was not

interested in Korean food because I am not into spicy stuff. Every time

my mom cooks something spicy, she cooks another dish for me. It

stings my tongue and mouth. I just looked at my food because it was

so red with Gochujang and Korean Chili pepper. Sir Dale was looking at

me and he approached me. He gave me something and he said, “Mine

is Beef Bulgogi. This is not spicy, have some Chapche. This is a Korean

noodle, thought you might like it too.” When I looked at him, he was

smiling at me. I told him it is okay. My food is fine. He insisted that I

should take his food. I said thank you and felt uneasy. Everyone in the

room looked at me including Ms. Therese. Sir Dale said, “I know her

father. He doesn’t like spicy food.” The image of my father suddenly

crossed my mind and it lingered for a while. My father likes spicy food

a lot.

By 5 pm, we all know our assignments. We were given a budget and

some gadgets needed. A car will transport us to our destination and

will be picked up at a specific time. Our subjects were already called

and were expecting our appointment with us. I looked at the place

where I should conduct an interview and I must say I was appalled.

Where on earth is Sandoval Avenue? I have lived here in Pasig City for

more than four years since college days but I haven’t heard of such a

place. I have never reached that far. My mother will be horrified if she

learned about this. I have an older brother, by the way. She’s my

mother’s firstborn from another man. They didn’t get married because

my mother said they had fallen out of love. Their separation was

amicable. My older brother is now 35 years old and he has two kids. He

used to tell me to take good care of mom. “No matter what happens,

don’t leave her.” He used to say. I told him I won’t.

The following day, I found myself in one of the busy markets in

Sandoval Avenue. He lives in Acacia alley, near a dike. It was a rugged

and dangerous place. I was told to look for my subject there. My first

assignment was to make an autobiography of a man who was

considered as no shame, no dignity in his time. It was kind of intriguing

but when I got to the place, I nearly backed out. I was in deep thought

about whether to continue or not when I heard a voice behind me

asking me where I was going. In front of me stood a man with a kind

expression. I told him I was looking for Michael Benedicto. He told me I

was looking at him.

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