Menandro’s Boulevard


This is my bench.

The boulevard has sixteen benches, miss.

How do you know?

I grew up here.

Grandfather, even beggars will not live here. It’s too cold and too windy at night.

I mean I just live over there.

Good. You go home now. It’s past your bedtime.

It is not.

I mean I want my bench.

It’s big enough, miss. Sit down, or sit over there.

I want this one, and I want to be alone. Someone’s coming for me. If he doesn’t see me on this bench he’ll think I’ve gone. And if he sees me with you—

All right. There’s your bench.

Thanks. Here—buy yourself some hot bread or some thing.

You’re new here, aren’t you?

Goodnight, grandfather.

Against two loops of the window grill, Menandro jammed the binoculars to steady it, hooked his pinkies on the nearest curlicues so his hands wouldn’t shake, and peered at the boulevard. She wasn’t there. Eight nights in a row he had watched her, the new girl with the furry black shoulder bag and the hungry child’s face that glowed a cold light when she laughed. He liked it better when she was alone and sad- looking; the bag hugged close to her small breasts. Then, though she had no way of knowing, he could inhabit her night until another man took her away in a car, on a motorcycle, on foot, and he could go to bed comforted that he had kept her company. This evening he had dragged the console closer to the window so he could sit with her. He really should have thought of that last week instead of punishing his feet. He stepped back from the window. Wings flapped in his stomach, a talon clawed its way up his solar plexus into his chest. Cold sweat erupted on his brows and palms. He leaned on the console, set the binoculars down on it. Damn acidity, he muttered. Must give up those lentils, and the scotch. The garlic vine outside the window rustled. Wind, dense with sea smells, rushed into the room. He took deep breaths. On his tongue gathered a faint taste of the city’s vile slop that roiled down sewers and culverts and ditches to the sea beyond the boulevard and hissed from it a dark storm that the wind blew over the promenade and into the houses facing it. When the city was younger, Menandro remembered, the boulevard smelled like a fresh bath.

He padded into the bathroom and rinsed his mouth with tap water. He gulped down the tepid water. The talon reed. A spill trickled down his chin into his pajamas. The annoying Dr Valde was joking. Was it that time of life already, and—he glanced at the mirror—was that the specter of past indulgences catching up on tired old flesh to log it, flay it to contrition?

He returned to the window. There! He brought the binoculars quickly to his eyes. A man staggered across the street and grassy island, across the promenade and u p the seawall to piss into the splashing dark.

She had already gone off with some other drunk, Menandro told himself. She had not yet come, it was early, not quite ten. She wasn’t coming at all, he decided to return home, miserably pregnant perhaps, in which case she was sensible, unlike this other boulevard woman many years ago, he recalled, who threw herself off the seawall and disgraced herself further by surviving.

At the pub two blocks away someone opened the door, laughter chased off-key singing into the street, motorcycles revved up and roared away. She could be in there, Menandro thought, maybe in the back room where there was reportedly dancing.

He put the binoculars down on the console, careful not to flip the framed photographs he had rearranged off to one side to clear a space for sitting on. It looked like the past reassembled, curious and questioning, behind the little ivory-faced Lady of Lourdes Pilaroca must certainly want packed in with the myriad other bric-a-brac and mementos listed in the letter he had not yet gone through beyond the first line which announced, unequivocally, she was leaving him.

He lifted the Lady. What now, what next? Her ivory melancholy seemed reproachful. You know I’m not to blame, Menandro whispered. Pilaroca’s scent wafted from the statuette. Pilaroca anointed most things she owned. Attar of roses was her proprietary stamp. One pfft from her atomizer and the merest calendar became personal belonging. Let her be, he whispered. No intercessions. Let her believe what she chooses, like she has always done.

He set the Lady down beside Pilaroca’s posy of silk flowers. It was ridiculous for their age, immature. She couldn’t even tell him to his face! Then he could have explained, and if she stayed adamant they could at least have played out this melodrama in a civilized, transparent manner that would spare the neighbors embarrassing speculations, mousy Teresing de Castro in the gabled house to the left and to the right the widow Ursulina who had just received an award from the Vatican, the classical-music-lovers Minggoy and Linette Vallarta in the next block, and in Madrid the cousins , what would they say? Even Carlitos and Concha Pastorfide two blocks away who used to visit regularly and drive out with Menandro and Pilaroca to Lourdes Farm whenever Menandro felt like looking in on the sugar cane, practically family, until Pilaroca told Concha it was vulgar of her to allow that epileptic Sabina Bondad to turn the entire Pastorfide ground floor into a bar and so kill the boulevard’s long cherished tradition of residential serenity. It was a scandal, Pilaroca declared. Now, in the letter he had thrust into the empty cigar box, hastily, as though it had fangs and a fatal temper, she had flung on the boulevard a sure-fire sensation. Menandro sighed. At their age!

He sat on the console. A group of boys wheeled by on bicycles, dogs yapped after a cat or a big rat, he didn’t bother to use binoculars. One gate after another swung open and uniformed maids emerged with waste baskets to discard its contents into the whitewashed garbage boxes ornamenting this side of the avenue. Three women who have been on the boulevard for years came to sit briefly on a bench, touched up the rouge on their cheeks, and click-clacked toward the pier in the distance where a ship swayed a string of deck lights reflected on the water. He would wait a while and see if the new girl came. He fell asleep with his head on the cold grill.

She wasn’t there the following night as well. That was expected. The afternoon had been overcast, acacia leaves drizzled into terraces and porches and the forgotten window, lightning cracked the evening sky, and rain fell as he sat down to supper of bread and vanilla milk. Dr Valde was right. The milk discouraged alcohol. The bread was too crusty, a bit unkind to the gums, but he did not want to have to get up later in the night to stuff a growling stomach.

He made another glass of vanilla milk and brought it to the living room. He switched on all the lamps. It was a living room comfortable, luxurious by boulevard standards. Had it really lived? A few genteel parties had been held there, some of Pilaroca’s Garden Club teas, small dinner-and -drinks with other directors of the planters’ association. The silvered casket of the glamorous Katrina had lain there, and so had the blue-gray of his naughty Bettina barely a year after. Two plane crashes, two lovely babies gone, just like that. He should have put his foot down and not let them go off to become flying servants. He should not have allowed them their way almost all the time, to begin with. But who could resist those eyes? Pilaroca could. She would have objected. She was the hard one. But she let him succumb to those eyes. It was good of her not to have turned on him at any time with blaming and yet he sensed, in this room, a recriminatory agenda to the acquisitions she had filled it with, the crystal and porcelain vases, brass urns and ceramic jars, terracotta bowls, pewter jugs and silver mugs from Mexico, cut-glass flasks, a chalice from Spain, a carved wooden humidor, jewel boxes of marble and jade, an enormous clay planter she refused to put a plant in. Menandro raised the cloissone lid on a jewel box, one of her first purchases after the funeral. It was empty, its black velvet lining free of dent or lint.

Menandro went out to the porch and sipped his milk. The downpour drummed on the roof. About the street lamps fine spray and mist formed iridescent globes. Menandro leaned on the balustrade and held out a palm The rain was cold. He gulped down the milk, set the glass down on the balustrade and stepped out into the pathway. The rain struck him like pellets of glass that broke on his skin and tore at his pajamas. He was drenched before he got to the gate. The asphalt was simmering obsidian river. He waded across. He sat on the dripping bench. He looked around him, at his old garden soaking in the rain. He wondered where the new girl was. She would have a home, of course. She was in bed by now, dry and warm and safe and sad-looking. She wouldn’t know he had been here. He began to shiver. The windows down the boulevard were closed and dark. The small neon Sabina Pub looked forlorn. He rose and waded across the street. His own windows were ablaze. He had forgotten to even close the front door. As he stood there in the streaming light, he knew what Pilaroca had done. She had brought into their home only silk flowers, and she had brought into their lives many precious things that were hollow, empty , and would not die.

You’re on my bench again.

 Maybe I want to sit with you.

 You’re joking, grandfather! You, too?

 I mean, just talk.

 I can’t. I’m—working. Oh, all right, just until Raymund comes.

 Who’s Raymund?

 Oh, one of those. This guy I was with last night told me it would be Raymund tonight. Blue car. I hope he’s handsome.

 You don’t know how this Raymund looks?

 No, grandfather. It doesn’t really matter. And it’s none of your business. Why are you laughing?

 Because you’re right. I’m not in this business. Why are you laughing?

 I was thinking how you would look if you were in this business.

 I’d probably need a lot of make-up so my wrinkles will not show.

 I don’t like make-up myself.

 You’re pretty enough without it.

 Make-up makes me feel I need to hide my face.

 You don’t need to. What’s your name?

 Anna. But I want to be called Mitzie. It tells you right away what I am. And what I’m doing here. What about you, grandfather, what are you doing here? You should be home with the family.

I don’t have any.

Neither do I.

I mean I had, but not anymore.

Your wife is dead?

Out of the country. She wrote to say she’ leaving me.

Oh. And she took the children with her.

My daughters are dead.

You don’t look sad.

They died a long time ago. What about you? You look sad almost all the time.

I’m smiling, can’t you see?

I mean on those nights when you’re sitting here alone.

How do you know?

I told you, I live nearby. I watch you when you’re here.

Really? Why?

You look so alone. And I’m all by myself. We may as well be together.

That’s nice. Hey—there’ s the blue car. I must go. You are?


That’s cute. Mandy. Goodnight, Mandy!

Old acacia or old street lamps there was not quibbling: Menandro, like his late grandfather Josephus Conroy, would always find the lamps more charming. The trees were ancient, important. They lofted canopies busy with birds from a wide green island between the two parallel avenues which made up the boulevard—Avenida Santa Catalina, named after the city’s patroness and given over to northbound vehicles that shook the panes and china of the fourteen stately residences along its cracked asphalt; and the promenade, Alfonso XIII, honoring a Spanish royal, reputedly syphilitic, with its concrete walk and concrete benches and concrete seawall. Trees made of streets avenues. That didn’t take much effort. The lamps, stiff-backed Josephus Conroy used to say, made romance of the boulevard. Equidistant from each other the old street lamps began their file beside the graffitied kiosk at the boulevard’s southern margin where the bedraggled shanties of Baybayon huddled and ended abruptly at the juncture where the grassy island vanished, the two avenues converged , and Calle Real surged in to sweep all traffic down a wide crescent toward the pier. It was long, neat row Menandro could not tire of contemplating. Between the trees the corollas of black wrought-iron and frosted glass arched up in clusters of five from slender white columns that involved the flutes and scrollwork and acanthus leaves of classic orders with the flora of impassioned sculpting. Very charming, the cousins from Madrid had enthused as they posed by the street lamps . A handsome young Menandro had posed there in his first white sharkskins. A solemn Menandro and a wan Pilaroca had posed there, she in the lace-daintied bodice and black-ribboned cameo that would become integral to her grooming.

The pictures still stood on the console, along with several of the girls’ snapshots taken in Singapore and Seattle and Vienna and Hong Kong and all over Madrid with the cousins. Grief would soon tire of haunting them, Menandro and Pilaroca agreed, if they confronted the girls’ mute laughter right there , day after painful day. It didn’t. The boulevard remembered them so well and tossed Katrina’s laugh and Bettina’s playful giggles back into the house like handkerchiefs left on the grassy island as they skipped home when the Angelus bells began and the old street lamps bloomed. Josephus Conroy, tweaking his silver mustache, used to say there was nothing like this boulevard in Kansas. He would have been dismayed , as Menandro was, to learn how the city council men, having resolved to rename Alfonso XIII after a more respectable character, were proposing to replace as well the old street lamps with those modern sodium balls that emitted a garish light and turned human complexion ashen.

Menandro aimed his binoculars a bit to the left. He made out a tangle of arms and bodies pushed tight against a tree trunk, quite dim from his window but, he guessed, in full view of Soledad Santileces if she swept out now, in her customary housedress and scapular, into her ornate balcony to despise, one more time before slumber, what the inconsiderate public had done to her childhood playground.

The new girl Mitzie stepped across the street. Her heels tip-tapped like a heartbeat of a wall clock. She sat on her bench, hugged the furry bag and crossed her legs primly. The glow of the street lamps gathered about her like a favored shawl. Tonight she wore pink of a shade Pilaroca would call cheap, the neckline scooped to a depth Pilaroca would call lascivious. Pilaroca seldom found any color or fashion as dignified as her white dresses with sleeves down to the elbows and voluminous collars that buttoned, tied, zipped up to the chin, there to be adorned by her black-ribboned cameo. Ursulina asked her once, over an afternoon demitasse, if she had wanted to be a nun. She was a lady, Pilaroca had retorted, and a lady dressed like one. She was implacable in other matters: shoes will track soil into the house, the laundry must never be hung on the line close to the back wall where the detestable Fulgencio Masangkay could stand on his kitchen sink and read the very labels on her underthings, sex was a bedroom activity and only in the dead of the night.

A red car slid up a curb, slowed down. The new girl Mitzie lifted a limp hand and gave a mirthless smile. She stood up and went to the car. A door opened. She slid in. The car moved away.

Menandro turned from the window. He put the binoculars down on the console. Another stranger, he thought, another mongrel bastard about to maul her breasts, he thighs, her pampered flesh between, while she caressed the bastard’s back and took his tongue into her mouth and squirmed and moaned in pretended pleasure—or did she, in fact, find pleasure in these violations that he, being a man, wouldn’t understand? Menandro shut his eyes. She probably did. You can never tell with women, they were capable of moods and monthly disorders, after all. He flinched. The talon scratched at his ribcage. He stumbled into bed, pressed a pillow against his chest. Go away, damn it! Go away, go away, he moaned until the talon subsided and there was only laughter ringing form the boulevard and Pilaroca’s stern calls, come home now, Katkat, Bettina, come!

Why did she leave you, Mandy?

She thinks I’ve been sleeping with the maid.

Have you?


Then why would she think that?

She came home one night and saw the maid coming out of your room. It was after midnight.

What was the maid doing there?

I came out of the bathroom and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I had to call someone. My wife was at a party.

That’s nice. She goes to parties without you.

Women’s Club things. She’s always at one charity or something. She used to prefer staying home. And then the girls died.

What of?

They were flight attendants.

Oh, plane crash.

Two plane crashes.

I’m sorry. You miss them.

Sometimes. I feel I should have told them to become something else. And Bettina—I should have held on to Bettina.

Beautiful name.

Lovely girl. She was my pet. Katrina was my wife’s favorite. I think my wife has never forgiven me. And now she has found an excuse to leave. I should have been stronger about decisions.

Don’t blame yourself.

Who else, Mitzie?

I mean it’s not necessary, this having to put the blame on anyone. The girls would have died anyway. We live, we die. God decides when. You can blame Him, if you dare.

Menandro snapped the lid back on the cigar box. Damn if he cared what else was in her letter. Damn if he would bother to pack and crate and ship her stuff. She can come and pick it up, haul it off herself. He snatched the box and hurled it at the mirror. He missed. The box cracked on the wall, Pilaroca’s letter sailed down to join the splinters. Menandro slumped on a chair and chuckled. He wondered if Teresing and Ursulina and Fulgencio Masangkay heard the noise and , if they did, grew alarmed at what he might be doing to his supper.

He felt hungry. He went into the kitchen, opened the cupboards and cabinets where he must have hidden his bottle of scotch after Dr Valde threatened to throw it out himself. The sardines! He hated those sardines, the whole stack of them, round tins and square, and the bottled ones, too, red labels, yellow labels, green labels anchovies and tuna and milkfish and probably shark. Pilaroca had carted an entire box home so he’d keep his arthritic hands off the pork. He pushed some tins aside and found the bottle. It gleamed like a jewel. He took it down, unscrewed the cap and poured down his gullet. Dr Valde was wrong. Scotch was bliss.

You really like this bench, don’t you, Mandy?

I like them all.

This one’s another home to me.

Where’s the real one?

It’s just a room. Where’s yours?

Over there. It doesn’t matter. It’s just many rooms.

I’m not telling you where mine is either. No one’s allowed in my room. This is where I make myself available. Did you know this is the only bench close to a street lamp? When I sit here the light fills me up and I feel good. That’s why I chose it.

I can sit over there, but we’d have to shout at each other.

No, Mandy, let’s not. I’ll think you were angry. I don’t feel good if I know someone’s angry with me.

You must be glad you’re not me.

Yes, or else I’d be sitting here with myself.

It’s late. I didn’t think you’d still be working.

I’ll just sit here for a while.

You want to be alone?

You want to go—just go. I’m used to people leaving me. I’ve seen more backs than fronts in my life, and me being what I am, I think that’s funny.

Not to me.

You’re right, Mandy. Nothing seems funny anymore.

One of these days I’m going to do the leaving. That should be funny.

To whom? You don’t have anyone to leave now.

All of them, Mitzie. All of them in those houses there.

Why would they care?

They’re supposed to be friends. Friends care.

That’s what I thought. No, I’m better off without that complication. They take what they want, I give what I can. Simple.


That’s the part I can handle.

Menandro drank his scotch on the porch. A ten-wheeler rumbled by, and elderly couple walked on the promenade arguing with a persistent sweepstakes ticket vendor. He started to doze. The roar of passing motorcycles woke him up. The street lamps were glowing.

Early to work, Mitzie?

Early to play?

What’s the occasion?

Nothing. I cleaned my room. Come and sit down. I brought supper.


It’s only cheese inside. That’s all I had. We’ll have to share the apple. I kept the other one for tomorrow.

Go ahead and eat. You need it. You’re too thin.

You’ve been drinking again. I can smell it.

Don’t tell my doctor. He’ll kill me.

The drinking will kill you first. Here, take this.

Do you always feed strangers?

Just the hungry ones. Birds, too, except they’re all asleep by the time I get here. I suppose that madwoman Lucilla feeds them anyway. I used to have many pets. I no longer keep any. They want you whole life. I only have moments to give. I’m going away.


Soon. If you come tomorrow I’ll be here to say goodbye.

Don’t you like it here?

I do. It’s beautiful, this boulevard. Makes you forget a lot.

Makes you remember, too.

I’m beginning to feel like I’m sitting in someone else’s garden.

Mine. You’re welcome here, Mitzie.

What am I to you?

A woman. Friend.

I’ll remember that.

Where will you go?

Where I’ll feel more like belonging. I don’t know.

I think I’ll miss you, Mitzie.

Thank you, Mandy. Just don’t say it again.

He stuffed the soiled clothes and underthings into urns and bowls and boxes, jars and the silver mugs. When he had done with the hamper he gathered the photographs from the console and dumped them into the enormous clay planter, along with the sardines. He wiped the sweat from his face and left the handkerchief inside the chalice. The jewel box with the cloissone lid he took with him. He switched off all the lamps, closed the door and walked into the boulevard.

What is that?

A jewel box, miss.

I don’t have jewels to put in it!

An apple, then. Two apples. It’s big enough.

What’s that on the cover? Is it gold?


Is this thing antique?

No, but it’s old. No one seems to have needed it. It has always been empty. A bit like life. I want you to have it.

Grandfather, you don’t have to give me anything if you want me.

I haven’t thought of that.

Maybe I have.

That’s kind of you.

Maybe just this once I want someone to take me as a woman and not as a whore.

Her lips tasted of apples, musky and luscious, the fruit of ancient biblical horror and fairy tales, the sweetness on which childhood fed for manhood to acquire wisdom and greed and so become acceptable. Menandro stroked her hair. His blood raced, he felt a new and furious hunger. He closed his eyes and sought her tongue. She gave it to him as she unbuttoned his shirt and tugged at his belt and opened him up to her sorcery. Her hands burned on his chest, his belly, on his throat and down his chest to his navel and up again, to his shoulders and chest and belly, prodding, kneading, searing his guts, igniting him to a generous largeness her hands triumphantly took possession of. Menandro shivered. His eyes flew open as great wings heaved inside his bowels. The night had a shrill silence. The street lamps flared brighter. He couldn’t see beyond the fierce light. He smiled and wondered what they would see if they came to their windows, Teresing below her gables and Ursulina rising from her litany and Minggoy beckoning Linetter from her piano and Soledad Santileces gasping into her scapular and Carlitos and Concha fleeing the tinkling gin tonics on their terrace, what they would think, the cousins in Madrid and in their startled midst the lave-gowned Pilaroca and in his oval frame Josephus Conroy tweaking his white mustache. Menandro laughed to see their incredulity as the new girl sighed his name and took him into her mouth and the great wings shrieked upward into his chest, filling him up, engorging him with a terrible rapture. He laughed as the boulevard rose and spun and the old street lamps exploded into blinding light and the great talons sank into his heart and ripped, and he laughed to see the astonishment on all their faces as they discovered he had died.

Bobby Flores Villasis was born in Bayawan, Negros Oriental in 1946. He spent some of his childhood years in Iloilo City, but established residence in Dumaguete City by 1960. He studied at St. Paul’s College Dumaguete [now St. Paul University Dumaguete] where he earned his AB degree in English. In college, he began writing under the mentorship of Edilberto Tiempo, Edith Tiempo, and Albert Faurot. He was a fellow to both the Silliman University National Writers Workshop and the University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop, where his manuscript entitled “Storm Signals” won the prize for best fiction in 1974. He has also received multiple Palanca awards for his plays and ficton, and has also citations from Focus Magazine and the Philippines Free Press. His books include Demigod and Other Selections [1998] and Suite Bergamasque: The Boulevard Stories [2001], and co-edited Kabilin: Legacies of a Hundred Years of Negros Oriental [1993] with Merlie Alunan.

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