Portrait by Lisa Asagi
R. Zamora Linmark’s new novel, Leche, follows a Filipino-American named Vince as he returns to Manila for the first time after living in Honolulu for 13 years. The satirical tale touches on issues from dictatorship to borderlands identity, pop culture to queer culture. In the excerpt below, Vince has just arrived in Manila and is riding in a taxi from the airport to the “United Multi-National Village.”
The iron gates open and the cab coasts along tree-lined streets named after revolutionary heroes, horoscope signs, and positive attributes, like Mabait (Well-behaved) and Magalang (Respectful). Vince rolls his window down and is surprised to be greeted by fresh air, as if the subdivision were another country, in another time. The cab passes row after row of mansions with grassy lawns and iron-grille gates, mansions hidden behind walls that, like the walls that circle the enclave, are crowned with broken glass and barbed wire.
Hanging above the couch in the living room is a tapestry of a Chinese-looking naked man and woman, emerging from two giant bamboo trees. Beside them, a fowl with colorful wings.
“Is that Elvis and Priscilla?” Vince asks.
“No, the owners of this townhouse,” the driver says, as he drops his bags on the tiled floor.
“They are in Yugoslavia, praying to Our Lady of Medjugorje.”
“They look very familiar,” Vince says.
“The man is the first cousin of President Aquino but is a Marcos loyalist,” the driver says. “They own the Joji’s Kamayan Restaurant chain here and in the States.”
Vince nods. Joji’s Kamayan Restaurant. Frequent sponsor of Filipino American social events in Hawaii, including U.S.–Philippine Friendship Day, scholarship pageants, and beauty contests, like Mister Pogi.
“Aning! Aning! Sir Vince is here,” the driver calls out.
Aning doesn’t answer, so the driver slides open the shoji screen doors of the bedroom. “Hoy, Aning, wake up na!”
Stretched out across the futon in the dark is Aning, her feet dangling from the off-white mattress.
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” she says, climbing out of bed, the top of her head grazing the ceiling.
“How was your trip? Turbulence-free ba? Are you hungry? You want to eat? There’s fried chicken with banana sauce. I can heat it up in the micro if you want. You want?”
“Are you the cook?” Vince asks.
“No,” Aning says. “I’m your maid. But I only work part-time. Twelve to four lang. Today is an exception, of course. Follow me.” She pushes a door open and motions Vince to enter the bathroom. “Everything is in good working condition, except for the shower.” She points to the showerhead covered with plastic and fastened with rubber bands. “It’s broken. But that’s all right because the giant bin is filled with water. I just changed it this morning. If you want to take a hot shower, you have to boil water pa. So never mind na lang. Besides, it’s so hot outside and another besides: cold showers are good for you. They wake you up faster than instant Nescafé. Let’s see. What else? Oh yes, blackouts.”
“Yes, blackouts,” Aning repeats. “There’s no electricity from ten in the morning to three p.m., and again from two a.m. to five a.m. So, if I were you, best na lang to spend your days at the mall. Too hot in here. You might get heatstroke. For running water, the times are different.”
“Are you serious?”
Aning laughs. “It’s 1991, Sir Vince. We’re still in the heart of the Dark Ages. In this country, water shortage goes hand in hand with power outage, revolution with Midnight Madness sales. Don’t worry, there are lots of candles with matching candelabras here. The matches are in one of the kitchen drawers. I think there’s also a flashlight somewhere in the house. You might need to replace the batteries, though.”
She closes the door, looks at herself in the mirror on the wall by the dresser. Vince looks at the unmade futon. It’s been almost a day and a half since the last time he laid down, including the eighteen-hour time difference.
“If you have any questions, Easy-Page or call me. The fax machine only accepts faxes but you can make local calls from it.” Aning pauses to paint her lips. “My number is on the pad, right on top of the aparador, next to the stack of postcards. You can have them if you want. Our last guests forgot them. German real estate investors from Dusseldorf. They own five or six resorts in Boracay. And oh, I almost forgot. There’s a fax for you from Hawaii. It came this morning. From a Mr. Edgar Ramirez, I think. Anyway, I better get going. Don’t want to spend the next ten years in traffic. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“What about the driver?” Vince asks.
“What about him?”
“Is he going to drive me around Manila?”
“He’s not your chauffeur; he’s only my husband.”
“Then who’s driving me to the event tomorrow?”
“Taxi,” she says.
“Can I call for one?”
“You can try, but it’s faster if you walk to the gate and hail one yourself. Don’t worry, Sir Vince, if there are two things this country never runs out of, they’re entertainers in the government and taxicabs. Oh, we’ll go na. You look like you’re ready to pass out. Sleep tight and dream many dreams, Sir Vince. You’re in the Philippines now.”
Excerpted from Leche by R. Zamora Linmark. Copyright © 2011 by R. Zamora Linmark. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Coffee House Press.