She was immaculately dressed in an elegant black outfit with a pair of matching stilettos. A similarly black wide-brimmed straw hat obscured the shape of her head, while its veil covered her face entirely.
There were those who later admitted that they couldn't help but speculate if she were, perhaps, the other younger woman kept secret by my father.
However, at the end of the interment ceremony, the mysterious woman walked towards my mother, dramatically removed the veil off her face, and kissed my mother on the cheek. Unfortunately, my mother was too grief-stricken to properly acknowledge her presence. But the astonished Tia Victoria, upon seeing this woman's face, immediately gasped and made the sign of the cross.
My face revealed a quick smile -- a welcomed, though temporary, respite from the sorrow that permeated the funeral -- for I, too, was caught unaware yet amused by this woman's seemingly theatrical appearance.
It was Luisa. She flew in to Manila for the day just to attend my father's funeral.
She has got to be in her 60s nowadays, but at that moment I tried to get a good look at her; wondering if she had retained any of her good looks. I remembered her back then as being attractively tall with an elegant figure, a pretty elongated face jeweled with alluring eyes, and her flowing jet black hair seemed to shimmer and sway with the breeze. Her dark skin tone complimented her enchanting exotic features which could have easily made either Michael Cain or Marlon Brando fall head over heels for her.
She grew up in our neighborhood in Santa Cruz, Manila in an apartment in the eskinita (alley) owned by my father's cousin. She lived with her parents and two brothers, but when she was about 14 or so, she moved in next door with another of my father's cousins, Tia Victoria, a spinster. I wasn't fond of this aunt on account of that folding fan that she menacingly wielded. I thought of her as someone left behind by a lover who had boarded one of the Galleon ships with the intention to never return to her choking arms. You see, Tia Victoria seemed as old as the weathered walls of Intramuros, with a mentality as archaic as the days of the inquiistion.
Anyway, as Tia Victoria's trusted companion and helper when not in school, Luisa was soon indoctrinated on the rudimentary virtues of a true Catholic woman. Her lessons included a visit to the church every afternoon and the recitation of the rosary before bedtime. And whenever Tia Victoria dropped by our house, Luisa would always be in tow. Eventually, Luisa became close to my older siblings due to the range in age they shared; hence becoming a frequent fixture in our house, either with or without my aunt.
During her second year at the University of the East, Luisa's family had fallen on hard times due to the death of one of her brothers. She had to quit her schooling. She also moved out of Tia Victoria's apartment and returned to live with her aging parents next door. She sought employment where she could to help the other brother whose income as a technician in an optical shop in Quiapo was insufficient to meet their living expenses.
The ensuing months proved challenging. Luisa was unable to get a regular job other than the usual odds and ends at the nearby university belt area that didn't pay much at all. Consequently, much to Tia Victoria's horror, Luisa accepted a good paying job offer from a schoolmate's friend -- as a hostess (or now commonly referred to as a GRO - guest relations officer) at one of Dewey Boulevard's exclusive night clubs. Her unusual career move defied all that which Tia Victoria labored to instill in her; taking it as a personal affront.
"Ipagtitirik kita ng kandila!" she screamed at poor Luisa.
Tia Victoria then launched a vicious crusade to have Luisa ostracized by the entire clan. But my father would hear none of her spurious, self-righteous rhetoric. He refused to abide by what he deemed a cruel judgment. My father opted to keep the door of our house remained open for Luisa; the only one among the whole clan's nearby dwellings. Tia Victoria's glaring stare and quivering lips revealed her indignation; totally unable to utter a single word to change my father's opinion on the matter. After all, it was my father's house.
So, for the next couple of years, Luisa continued her regular visits at the house. Her appearance, however, eventually changed; influenced perhaps, by the kind of work she did. She was becoming more glamorous with each passing day.
Luisa favored the bouffant hairdo which, in retrospect, a fashion trend that might have started the depletion of the ozone layer. Her eyes sported those thick long eyelashes, while her stylish mini skirts made her long shapely legs even more apparent to the adoring eyes of many men.
She married an Australian she met at her club. They waited after their baby was born in Manila before they all moved to Sydney. I was already in high school by then, and the most memorable conversation we had just before she left was when I had a huge zit on my nose on the eve of a school dance. Her advice was for me to focus all my attention on the girl, not on my gargantuan pimple, and that everything else would fall into place. I wished the zit would fall off my face.
"Remember, Eric," she told me, "it's the romance that counts the most."
It was at my father's funeral when I saw Luisa again since she and the baby moved to Sydney. And although she only had a few minutes to spare before heading back to the airport, she did find time to put an arm around me as she took the vacant seat next to where I was sitting.
When I asked how life was in Australia for her and the baby, she confided that her husband landed in jail for some major scam he had devised. However, the baby was doing fine, she claimed. When I asked how they were both getting along without him, she replied, "You know, I'm in India today and may be Hong Kong the next," ending her remark with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Like those James Bond women?" I asked teasingly. "Sort of, but none of that spying business." She was smiling when she said it but her eyes weren't. She then quickly kissed my forehead as she got up to head over to her waiting car.
Sadly, that was the last time I saw Luisa.
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