Nick Joaquin was born on May 4, 1917 in their ancestral home in Paco. His famous lawyer-father, Don Leocadio, was a colonel in the Philippine Revolutionary Army, and his mother, Salome Marquez, was one of the first teachers to be appointed to the public school system set up by the newly arrived Americans, after they won the Philippines from Spain in the Spanish American war of 1898. (The Americans later paid for the Philippines the amount of 20 million dollars.) There were nine siblings, and Nick was number four in order of succession.
One day, Mama Sarah suggested that he submit his works to the Tribune (which was a part of the Tribune, La Vanguardia, and Taliba group of Manila newspapers before the war). Immediately the literary editor of the Tribune, Serafin Lanot, liked Nick’s writings, and this broke the boy’s reticence. He was encouraged to keep on submitting his essays and short poems.
In Mr. Lanot’s desire to meet the young writer, he arranged with the cashier issuing the writers’ checks to call him the moment Nick came over for his check. When Nick did, he noticed Mr. Lanot smiling, approaching him from a distance. Nick sprinted away and was gone.
That was typical Nick—extremely shy and self-effacing. Throughout the years since coming out with his first book, Nick Joaquin Prose And Poems, and becoming famous, he kept his privacy as much as possible, avoiding the limelight, even photographs. He even shunned cocktail parties in his honor because of his shyness.
Fortunately, for him and his milieu, when he finally won his first prize for his essay on “La Naval De Manila” he was also awarded a seminary scholarship by the Dominicans. (According to historical data, in 1646, the Dutch Navy attempted to conquer the Philippines, but the combined Spanish and Filipino forces who fought were said to have requested the intercession of the Virgin through the statue prior to battle. They were urged to place themselves under the protection of Our Lady of the Rosary and to pray the rosary repeatedly. The Dutch were annihilated.)
Because of that outstanding essay, the Dominicans invited Nick to try the priesthood, sending him to the Dominican Seminary in Hong Kong. Alas, Nick was not the type to be confined in a monastery, and within a year he was back in Manila. He first worked as a proofreader before becoming literary editor of the Philippines Free Press. As staff member, Nick’s works became popular, and he flourished writing under the pseudonym of Quijano de Manila (an anagram of Joaquin).
Nick wrote journalism with a literary touch, which revolutionized news feature writing in the country. By this time his shyness soon became diffused, thanks to his discovery of San Miguel Beer, the country’s popular drink, which he enjoyed immensely. Every time he drank—and he usually consumed half a case before the night was over—his behavior and attitude were enhanced, including the volume of his baritone voice.
During family gatherings at our place or at his other brother Enrique's (Ike), Nick was our enigmatic uncle. He would not confirm his attendance at any party of the Joaquins and when he appeared, he just wanted to drink beer and eat some canapés. After a few moments one would notice that he was gone, just like that. Other times he was nowhere to be found, or he would, according to him, be working on his projects, which by then included commissioned biographies of popular Filipino figures in the private and government sectors.
When asked about his lifestyle, Uncle Nick simply stated: “I do not like sports, I hate formal dressing, I enjoy more my mother’s cooking, and I do not want to learn to drive a car.”
Teddy Locsin Sr., in the introduction to Nick’s first book of prose and poems wrote:
“Nick Joaquin, one might as well say it right at the start, is the first literary artist of the country. No Filipino now writing matches his stories in power and beauty; their wedding of primitive emotions with sophisticated treatment is beyond the power of local practitioners of the art.”
In 1957, under a fellowship from the Harper Publishing Company, he sojourned in the United States and, later, in Mexico to write a novel. The result was one of his most significant works, The Woman Who Had Two Navels.
When Nick was living with us after their lawyer father Don Leocadio Joaquin died of a massive hypertensive stroke, my parents enrolled him and his two younger brothers at Mapa High School, which was just a block away from our house. Halfway through his second year of high school, Nick approached the principal, a Miss Englund, an American lady, and categorically told her that he was quitting his studies.
Just like that. The principal, who was among the Thomasites that populated the Philippine educational system, was flabbergasted but could do nothing. Nick told my parents and his mother, Salome, of his decision, and they were kind enough to give the young man the benefit of the doubt. His two younger brothers continued on till high school graduation.
Meanwhile, Nick determined to prove to himself and everyone what his dream was, pursued his self education by visiting the libraries, including the University of Santo Tomas, the University of the Philippines on Taft Avenue and finally settling for the National Library, which was housed in the basement of the Legislative building on Burgos Avenue. There, Nick created some kind of kinship with the librarians because he would go there daily without fail, read as many books and at closing time ask them to please hold the books he was still reading so he could continue the following day.
Mama soon noticed that his shoes had really worn-down heels and needed to be replaced. But he was not too keen on looking good and, in fact, at times his socks did not match and his shirts were not even properly pressed.
A peculiar trait of Uncle Nick’s was that he did not know how to manage his finances. One can imagine how many millions of pesos in fees he had earned over the years, especially from the biographies he had written. But he did not keep any kind of accounting and notoriously gave huge tips to people who served him when he did his nightly bar and hotel hopping.
When he died on April 29, 2004, not only was he penniless, he even owed some money. The end came one morning when he no longer felt like eating, according to the houseboy who served him in his house in San Juan where he lived alone.
Among the distinguished awards Nick received were the National Artist for Literature in 1976 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. One of his works, A Portrait Of The Artist As Filipino, has been translated into at least two languages.
I am proud and happy to state that I wrote a memoir about my dear uncle entitled A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin published by Anvil Publishing Inc. Manila, Philippines and launched in October 11, 2011.
Tony Joaquin was into Philippine TV production, acting and directing. He was also an industrial trainer, a college professor of humanities, and an essayist and biographer.
There lived a poet in Pasig for whom twilight sometimes gathered while the sun was still a-nooning. When that happened, he could understand the language of animals, and also of flowers, kettles, and chairs.
One day he was having a pre-lunch aperitif when what should drop into his drink but a lizard. It was a baby lizard no bigger than a pin, and not yet expert at cruising ceilings. “Crawling upside down takes a lot of practice,” its mother had said, “so we’ll begin with something easier, like crawling down walls.” Which was what she had been training her baby to do, every evening, at the sound of the Angelus, when, as we all know, good house lizards kiss the ground in homage to the Virgin.
But this baby lizard was so daring it couldn’t be stopped from trying to cruise ceilings upside down all by itself, as it was doing this day it lost grip and fell into the poet’s aperitif.
“Well, well,” said the poet, “I sit down for a wee drop of beer and I get a wee drop of dragon!”
And fishing out with two fingers the little drowning creature, he dropped it on the tablecloth and made a blessing over it.
“Since you have already immersed yourself,” said he, “I may as well complete your baptism. I christen thee Gotita de Dragon.”
At that, the baby lizard lying limp on the cloth lifted a groggy head and whimpered.
“Gotita de Dragon! But I’m a he, not a she—and Gotita sounds like a she!”
“Oh, all right then,” said the poet, “you shall be called Goti for short.”
“Because I’m so short?” asked the baby lizard anxiously. “Because,” reassured the poet, “someday you’ll be as big as a gothic dragon: un dragón gótico!”
The other people in the room were not surprised to see the poet talking with a lizard. They merely murmured in chorus: “Ah, twilight has again gathered for him when the sun’s still a-nooning!” And they worried that he might need another stay at the rest house.
Happily, however, that twilight at noon did not linger, though often subsequently was the poet observed being visited by his new friend, Goti the lizard.
“You said I’d someday be as big as a gothic dragon,” said Goti on one of these visits, “but I don’t seem to grow any bigger. How do I become a full-size dragon?”
The poet pondered before replying: “In all the tales I have read, you have to do three good deeds before you get your wish. So, Goti, if you wish to become a dragon, you’ll have to perform three good deeds first.”
“But, Godfather, how does one perform three good deeds?”
“Oh, for that, you have to go out, like all heroes, into the great big world. And it so happens that this afternoon I’m going to Remedios Circle in Malate. As tourist turf, that’s part of the great big world. You want to chance it?”
“With all my heart!” cried brave little Goti.
And that afternoon he was taken by the poet to Malate and dropped at Remedios Circle. How excited Goti was as he sped round and round the great big world! When night fell he was dazzled by the lights that came on.
From a restaurant sauntered a cockroach picking its teeth with its antennae.
“Hi, rube!” said the cockroach. “You lost, boy?”
“Of course not!” cried Goti, “I know my way around.”
“Is that why you’ve been running around and around like a lost soul?”
“No, I’m looking for a good deed to do!”
“Haha! Ho ho! That’s a good one!”
“You don’t happen to know a good deed that needs doing?” asked Goti.
“As a matter of fact I do,” replied the cockroach, turning serious. “See that door across the street? Over there lives an old couturier who’s not making money like before. My family used to live with him, but we had to scram. Or starve to death like he’s doing now. My, if you’re looking for a good deed to do, that old man is it. What’s your name, boy?”
“Well, Goti, you just scoot across the street and start your do-gooding with poor old Mondrian de Manila. Famous couturier once. Just a has-been now.”
Mondrian de Manila was wailing in the dark of his one-room pad when Goti got there. The couturier sat on a cot holding his head in his hands.
“Aie de mi,” he wailed, “I who dressed Doña Aurora and Mrs. Teaham! I who was the couturier of the Zobel señoras and the Madrigal girls! And how many coronation gowns did I design for how many carnival queens? When Susan Magalona made her debut, was not my name on everyone’s tongue? At the Kahirup balls, weren’t they all wearing a Mondrian? And for the first terno of the new Mrs. MacArthur, whom did she call on? Me, me! But now, now, here I languish in darkness who cannot even pay the light bill! I who basked in the spotlight during the barrio fiestas at Malacañang because it was I, I—aie de mi!—who fashioned their balintawaks and patadiongs!”
“Well, why can’t you do that now?” asked Goti, who had perched himself on the couturier’s shoulder.
“Because my fingers have lost their cunning,” replied Mondrian without even looking around to see who was asking. “Before, what wonderful hands I had, so swift and skillful with needle and scissors. And, concholas, I was but a boy when I started out, barely fifteen on the Day of the Commonwealth when Doña Titay Osmeña wore my first terno and I awoke next morning to find myself famous!”
“And how old are you now?” asked Goti,
“Too old, pobrecito de mi … Pushing sixty! Which is all I can push now with these gouty hands … But, hombre, my mind is as rich as ever, simply teeming with great designs I can’t even put down on paper. Yes, crowded is my head like a vast wardrobe where hang clothes of fabulous beauty! And with the eyes of the imagination I see those masterpieces of elegance I can no longer execute . . .”
“Can’t somebody do them for you?”
“Impossible! Who else could? Ché! I am Mondrian the peerless. Only I myself can bring forth my own creations. But no more can I do so! No more! Nevermore!”
And the old couturier again took his head in his gouty hands, moaning and groaning as he swayed from side to side. Dislodged, Goti fell to the floor, where he found himself being regarded by a little brown mouse.
“Strange,” said the mouse, “but the shop I’m squatting in now has got exactly the opposite problem.”
“What do you mean?” asked Goti.
“The couturier there,” replied the little brown mouse, “is young, a boy barely fifteen, and with marvelous fingers, so clever with needle and scissors. But, alas, his imagination is not as nimble. He lacks magic. And so, though his creations are always perfectly made, they look insipid, they have no glamour. And this poor boy, who calls himself Anito de la Moda, is eating his heart out because nobody buys him; he sets no fashion trends, and his name is no more known today than when he first opened shop a year ago, over there across Remedios Circle.”
“Now let me see,” mused Goti, “this Anito de la Moda has what Mondrian de Manila lost, while the old couturier possesses so richly what the beginner so badly needs. I think I can hit two birds with one stone and perform two good deeds at the same time … Hey look, the old man has fallen asleep.”
And indeed Mondrian had cried himself to sleep and now lay on his side on the cot, dreaming of new creations. Up to his ear crept Goti and, being so small, he had no trouble slipping into the old man’s ear and inside his head. Within was indeed a vast wardrobe, but in miniature, hung with frocks and gowns and ternos of unearthly loveliness.
“I wish I could take them all!” exclaimed Goti. “How can I choose only one?”
But at last he picked an exquisite gown in midnight blue, which he put on, for it was just his size. And thus stunningly attired, he returned to the waiting mouse, who can be forgiven for being overcome.
“Oh, stop that laughing!” cried Goti. “And lead me to the shop of this Anito de la Moda.”
Tears had also been the young couturier’s supper, for he had had a cruel day. Stylish ladies had dropped in and fingered his creations, and were not tactful in their comments.
“What fine craftsmanship,” said one, “but the design is awful!”
“Such good work,” sniffed another, “wasted on this shapelessness!”
“He can sew all right,” shrugged a third, “but he has no sense of style!”
Such overheard remarks had brought poor Anito de la Moda to the very brink of despair, inexplicably enough, since, after all, he had been hearing the like every day since he opened shop. But this time they sounded like nails being driven into his coffin, for he had decided that if today still brought no buyer he would go back to his barrio in the province and there again herd his father’s carabaos.
Today had brought no buyers: so back to the carabaos!
And he had gone to bed hungry, with nothing to swallow but his tears. But while he slept, Goti arrived and crept into his ear and left the gown in midnight blue inside the young couturier’s head.
Before dawn, Anito suddenly awoke, seeing plainly what he thought he had dreamed: a blue gown exquisite in style, unearthly in its loveliness. Feverish, excited, inspired, not bothering to wait for daylight, he set to work on this creation. And because he had it all in his head—the shape, the material, the color, the style—he had completed in a few hours what looked as if it had taken months to create.
This time he knew he had done it: a supreme costume. Quality, taste, and glamour. No, he would not be going back to herd his father’s carabaos. And that very morning his blue gown was on display at Rustan’s. The commotion it caused! In an instant the ladies of the great world were beating a path to his door, frantic to be first in line for the next creation of Anito de la Moda, whose name was suddenly on everyone’s lips!
“Rightly,” quipped a wit, “did he name himself Spirit of Style!”
Thus began the Anito boom, which every day produced miracles of elegance, so fresh, so original, and in so steady a stream as to seem without end. For every night a dress or two was stolen from old Mondrian’s head that Goti transferred to the sleeping Anito’s head. The next day transformed them into the young couturier’s new sensations. Goti felt he was making the dreams of Mondrian come true.
But when at last the old couturier became aware of the fashion furor, he shook with anger to discover in magazine after magazine gorgeous pictures of the great Manila beauties wearing his clothes, the clothes of Mondrian de Manila. He recognized them: the clothes he had designed in his mind. How had they been able to get out of there and into the shop of this … this upstart … this fashion thief … this plagiarist … this Anito de la Moda?
How the old man raged! He sought out his old customers: the aging beauties of the city, the former fashion plates now on the shelves in high places and he complained to them of the wrong being done to him. They were sympathetic, not liking the young vogue princesses. And the word went round that the miraculous Anito de la Moda was merely stealing the designs of the Grand Old Maestro of Philippine Fashion.
Anito was shocked. He a grave-robber? For truthfully did he claim not even to know that the old man was still alive, much less that he was a neighbor on Remedios Circle, so long had Mondrian de Manila vanished from the world of the living.
“And how,” asked Anito, “can I steal what isn’t there? Let Don Mondrian produce a single sketch to which can be traced any of my creations—or let him go back to his grave!”
Thus dared to put up or shut up, the old man became rash.
“This Señor Anito de la Moda,” cried he to an eager press, “has been eavesdropping on my stream of consciousness!”
“Ah,” retorted Anito, “so that old man thinks I can crawl in to his mind?”
“But yes,” came back Mondrian, “because he is a witch who can enter anywhere and steal other people’s dreams!”
“None has entered his belfry but bats!”
Back and forth raged the spindle war, to the wicked profit of the columnists.
All this, of course, saddened poor little Goti, who had believed that a good deed could be recognized by its happy results. But his two good deeds had resulted only in grief and fury on two sides. The nightly fashion shuttle would have to stop. And he transferred no more clothes from the mental wardrobe of the old man to the mental atelier of the younger one.
Alas, the result was more unhappiness!
The stream of miracles from Anito’s workshop suddenly dried up and the young couturier sank from dismay to despair. No more did he wake up at dawn with the image of a new dress clear in his head. What he fumblingly produced now was deemed as vulgar as his early work and customers began to call him a flash in the pan. His shop was again snubbed by fashion.
But why, he wondered in anguish, could he dream up no more style sensations? Was he, indeed, a witch who had been looting the imagination of old Mondrian de Manila, that maestro whose masterpieces he, Anito, had idolized as a child?
As for Mondrian, he too sank into gloom as he saw his clothes no longer on women’s backs and in the magazines. He had raged at the robbery but in his heart had thrilled to see his clothes again the sensation of Manila Elegante. He had thought that only his own hands could create them but now had to admit that his dream designs had been transformed into reality by a superb workmanship, perfect in every detail. And mightily did he yearn for more of the patterns inside his head to materialize as real clothes in that shop across Remedios Circle!
But little Goti thought the old man hated the young one as grimly as Anito hated back in tum.
“If I could only make them love each other!” cried Goti to the cockroach and the mouse, who were now his constant companions. “Then my two good deeds wouldn’t go to waste.”
“If it’s a problem of love,” said the cockroach, “then you must turn to Saint Valentine, who’s the expert on the matter.”
“Especially,” added the mouse, “since it will be his feast day in a couple of weeks.”
So Goti went to church to pray to Saint Valentine, and he prayed so hard he fell from the church ceiling and onto a woman’s bosom. “Why the hurry?” she asked. “It’s not Angelus yet.” Down swooped two little rainbow birds to pluck lizard from bosom.
“Let me go!” he screamed as the birds flew him away in their claws.
“Don’t be afraid,” said they. “We’re the lovebirds of Saint Valentine and we’ve been sent to tell you what to do.”
“And what do I do?” asked Goti.
“You send Valentine cards to this Mondrian and this Anito.”
“How can I when I can’t buy anything?”
“Don’t buy them; have them made special. Don’t you know somebody who can write verse?”
“I do. My godfather, the poet in Pasig.”
“Then that’s where we’re going.”
The poet in Pasig was having a pre-supper aperitif when the lovebirds flew in and dropped Goti into his drink.
“This is getting monotonous,” sighed the poet as he fished out the lizard from his beer. “Why, if it ain’t my godson, Goti! Not a dragon yet, are you?”
“But I’ll be one soon, Godfather,” cried Goti, dripping, “if you help me.”
And he told the poet what he needed: Valentines for the warring couturiers.
“Oh, that’s easy.” And the poet reached for cardboard, envelopes, and colored pencils. In a jiffy he had fashioned two large Valentines in color.
The first one went this way:
Mondrian of the magic scissors
whose needle is divine:
Forgive my awful nerve and deign
to be my Valentine!
And the other card said:
Roses dressed in red
Violets wearing blue
are the highest in couture—
and so, Anito, are you!
Both cards were signed the same: Your Admirer on Remedios Circle.
“Well, here you are, Goti,” said the poet, “and they won’t be the first Valentines that produced dragons.”
Down swooped the lovebirds to carry the Valentine’d lizard back to Remedios Circle. And there they dropped the first card at Mondrian’s and the second one at Anito’s. Both the gloomy recipients brightened up on opening what had been delivered.
“A Valentine!” cried Anito. “And delivered by lovebirds! How too too romantic! Who could have sent it? Your Admirer on Remedios Circle. Is it possible that he … But who else? Yes, it’s from my childhood idol! Him! Him! Only him!”
“Pero chihuahua,” chuckled Mondrian, “nobody has sent me a Valentine in ages. But who? Your Admirer on Remedios Circle. How I tremble! Madre santisima, can it be that he … But who else? Only that double of mine who can translate my dreams. El! El! Solo el!”
On Remedios Circle waited Goti with cockroach, mouse, and lovebirds, all of them expecting something to happen. But nothing did—though from his doorway Mondrian could be seen peeping out towards Anito’s doorway, where the young man was likewise shyly peeping out across the Circle.
“Oh, why don’t they come out and rush into each other’s arms!” cried Goti.
“Because of pride,” said the lovebirds. “It’s the ‘all’ that love has to conquer.”
And then Goti got an idea—and dispatched cockroach and mouse in opposite directions. The cockroach headed for Anito’s doorway and there he crawled up Anito’s leg. The mouse ran to Mondrian’s doorway and there he nibbled at Mondrian’s ankle.
“Naku, a cockroach!” shrieked Anito, shaking his invaded leg. “Naku, nanay ko, a cockroach, a cockroach! Saklolo, saklolo!”
And he dashed out in panic to Remedios Circle.
At the same moment Mondrian was also rushing out to the Circle, screaming: “Dios mio, Dios mio, a mouse! Aie que horror, a mouse, a mouse! Socorro, socorro!”
And the two couturiers collided on the lawn of Remedios Circle. For a moment they stared at each other in frigid silence. But the next moment they were in each other’s arms, bawling as one.
“Maestro!” cried the young one.
“Prodigy!” yelled the other.
“Come to my shop,” said Anito, “and inspire me!”
“Oye tu,” said Mondrian, “I have this terrific idea for a disco dress in mauve—”
“But mauve is the wrong color for discos.”
“Not the way I propose to use it.”
“Which wouldn’t be mod.”
“I beg your pardon, sir!”
“You don’t know mod.”
“You are insulting me, sir!”
“Oh, here we are quarreling again! Look, Maestro, just come to my shop and tell me your idea.”
“And it’s a wow, a wow—my idea. Mira, joven, we begin with—”
And arm in arm the two couturiers went off to Anito’s shop.
“Goti, your third good deed has succeeded!” exclaimed the cockroach.
“Not yet,” sighed Goti.
“How do you know?” put in the mouse.
“Because,” replied Goti, “the moment it succeeds I’ll turn instantly into a dragon. And as you can see, I haven’t yet.”
Next day, all Manila knew that the two warring couturiers had kissed and pacted. They had joined forces as well as names: their joint shop was to be as known as Mondrianito’s and each of their joint creations would be known as a Mondrianito. Their collaboration would be launched in a fashion show on Valentine’s Day—and all Manila Elegante clamored to be among those to wear a Mondrianito in the historic Valentine show.
The suspense was killing for Goti, who watched the two couturiers quarreling every day, clashing over every design, as each disputed the other’s ideas. They screamed; they fought; they threw things; and every dress was, they bitterly swore, the last, absolutely the very last, Mondrianito. What about the show? “Over my dead body!” each one muttered.
But came Valentine’s Day—and the show went on, at the ballroom of the Manila Hotel, where women swooned and even strong men wept to see one vision after another of raiment such as goddesses might have worn to the shrine of beauty. But the night-long applause thundered loudest when, at show’s end, the two couturiers met at the center of the ballroom and bowed together, and embraced, and bowed again, and kissed, as the happy tears flowed from their eyes.
At that moment there were squeals of alarm from the corner where the mouse and the cockroach were watching the show with Goti. The animal squeals were followed by human shrieks of horror. All eyes turned in that direction and everybody stared petrified, aghast at what loomed so incredibly in that part of the ballroom.
Goti had turned into a dragon.
Next day, toward evening, the poet in Pasig was reading the latest extras on what the media were calling “the Valentine Monster.”
“Ouch,” thought the poet. “Poor Goti.”
There were further reports on last night’s pandemonium at the Manila Hotel, where the Mondrianito show had ended with such a bang, and the uproar at the Luneta, where the appearance of the monster had sent the crowds stampeding. The army had been called out, and the marines, and they had the monster almost cornered at the seawall when it jumped into the bay. Rushed from Subic, underwater craft were combing the deeps when the monster surfaced on Corregidor. There it had climbed on top of a peak, round which had swarmed battle aircraft to bombard the monster.
“Just like King Kong,” thought the poet.
It was observed, continued the reports, that the monster, though the fire just bounced off its hide, kept weeping and whimpering like a baby. Finally it had jumped back into Manila Bay. Plane and submarine had followed in its wake but were unable to find any trace of it inside the bay or out at sea, and the belief was that the monster had been successfully chased away from Philippine waters.
“Thank heaven he got away!” exclaimed the poet.
“Oh no, he didn’t!” cried two voices, and looking down, the poet saw a cockroach and a little brown mouse on the arm of his chair. “We’re his friends,” said the cockroach. “And Goti has sent us to fetch you,” said the mouse.
“Where is he?” asked the poet.
“Hiding down in the river,” replied the messengers. “He doesn’t want to be a dragon any more.”
“As the other fellow said,” shrugged the poet, “not getting your wish is sad, but getting it can be sadder. Well, lead me to him.”
Off a lonely bank of the Pasig waited Goti, only part of his monstrous head showing above water.
“Oh Godfather, Godfather—help me!”
“So you now want to be a wee drop of dragon and not a full-size one?”
“I only want to be liked—and I thought I would be liked more if there were more of me to be liked.”
“The old mistake of millionaires.”
“Godfather, how can I become a wee drop of dragon again?”
“Well, Goti, the old books say only a virgin can tame a monster. So I suppose only a virgin can make you small again.”
“And how do we find a virgin?”
“That’s the hard part. But I know someone who can help us: this wolf who lives on Camerino Street in Project Four. He has got this foolproof virgin-detector. But I can’t go there, I have to babysit you.”
“Some baby!” giggled the cockroach and the mouse.
“But these two friends of yours here,” continued the poet, “can rush over there and borrow that virgin-detector from the wolf.”
“A wolf!” shuddered the cockroach and the mouse.
“Oh, you’re in no danger from him,” said the poet, ‘‘unless you put on skirts. He only eats anything with a skirt on.”
So off went the cockroach and the mouse, very nervously, to see the wolf of Camerino Street in Project Four.
“Har har har! My poet friend wanting to borrow my virgin-detector? Har har har!” he roared. “Twilight must have gathered for him while the sun was still a-nooning. But, all right, here’s the gadget. And you kids be sure you don’t lose it!”
“How does it work?” asked the mouse.
“You hold it in your hand, see? And if a virgin is nearby, it whistles. Like this: Hoo hoo-o-o-ot! Okay ngarod? But go where the girls are. And happy hunting!”
Whistle in hand, the mouse left with his companion in search of a virgin.
“What did he mean, where the girls are?” wondered the cockroach.
“Tourist turf,” said the mouse.
So they headed for Malate and Ermita.
“Look, over there. A place with lots of girls inside,” said the cockroach, pointing.
But when they went inside, the virgin-detector didn’t whistle, though they went through all the rooms where girls were busy bathing wolves and hogs and bulls.
“Well, we did learn,” said the cockroach afterwards, “that it’s no use looking in saunas.”
Their next try was in a pub so dark you could hardly see the girls at the tables. At every table a girl. But at no table would the detector whistle.
“Maybe this thing is out of order,” said the mouse.
“Are you sure you’re holding it the right way?” worried the cockroach.
Hundreds of girls were dancing at this huge disco where next they stopped, but no tweet at all from the whistle.
“Maybe we can’t hear it for the noise here?” suggested the cockroach.
“No, I’m holding it to my ear,” said the mouse, “and it’s mute.”
And thus it was all night. They went into parks, and cinemas, and hotels, and motels, and other night places, but never heard the detector whistle. Towards dawn they gave up and the angry mouse threw the whistle away.
“Drat it!” he cried. “It’s no help!”
The cockroach retrieved the whistle and tucked it between his wings. “Maybe,” said he, “there are no virgins at night.”
Back they went to the Pasig riverbank, where the poet waited, still babysitting poor Goti.
“You just didn’t know how to use the detector,” said he when he had heard their report. “Let me see the whistle.”
The mouse plucked it from the cockroach and was holding it towards the poet when—suddenly and at last!—the virgin-detector burst into deafening sound! Hoo hoo-o-o-o! Hoo hoo-o-o-o! The mouse was so startled he dropped the whistle. But on and on it resounded, at the poet’s feet. Hoo hoo-o-o-o! Hoo hoo-o-o-o! On and on like a police siren shrilled the deafening wolf whistle!
Cockroach and mouse and Goti were all gaping at the poet.
“You—a virgin!” they cried together.
It was some time before the blushing poet could find his voice.
“Oh, stop the darned thing!” he mumbled, kicking the whistle away. And then he confronted the eyes trained on him in astonishment. “All the better for Goti,” he shrugged, “if it’s me that can change him back, right? Now . . . what was the procedure? The virgin tied her girdle round the monster’s neck and then led it away, tamed. But since I don’t wear girdles, let’s try my belt. Haul up your neck from the water, Goti.”
The staring Goti did as told and the poet fastened his belt round the monstrous neck and then tugged, leading the huge dragon from river to bank. And as they moved away from the bank and the sun came up, there was a sudden hiss as of air escaping from punctured tire or balloon. The poet felt his belt go slack and, looking around, saw no huge dragon but only a lizard looking stunned on the ground, a baby lizard no bigger than a pin, glittering between a cockroach and a mouse that both looked as flabbergasted.
“Well, there you are, Goti,” said the poet, putting his belt back on. “And you can come back to my ceiling as long as you don’t come back to my beers.”
Then, oh, what a merriment as Goti linked hands with cockroach and mouse and danced them round and round in the morning sunshine! And overhead appeared the two lovebirds of Saint Valentine, singing this prophecy:
Goti’s a big big hero, hooray,
as you all remember when,
for an instant, every Valentine’s Day,
he becomes a dragon again!
And that’s why, on every eve of Saint Valentine, the poet in Pasig stays up until midnight, to see, as the clock strikes the first hour of the feast, little Goti, for a brief brief second, again turned into a dragon.