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“I was made to work at a brothel house,” Ana Rosa sighs as she gently brushes her finger on Teo’s hair, “they said that the reales that I was earning selling cigars were just a percentage of what I could earn with the trade that was offered to me. I was so naïve back then that I grabbed the opportunity”
She glances at the young man lying beside her silently listening to her. His silence tells her to proceed with her story;
“At first I was mistaken to be selling pleasures in the streets for I was frequently roaming the streets of the city, sweeping them to find some gentlemen to sell cigars to. But most of those gentlemen only agreed to buy some of my items in exchange for one thing; myself. These gentlemen always ended up being rejected for I did not have it in me to sell my dignity like an item for sale on my tray. Until one day, a beautiful woman came to me. She told me that most men want cigars that no men had ever consumed yet. She claimed that beneath the city dirt that had been staining me was a delicate woman that any man would want to have their hands on. Segnora Belinda was right. She took me in to her house, a warm dwelling across a busy corner in the street, where several men frequently visit. She gave me clean frocks and removed the dirt from me. I felt clean and presentable for the first time. The woman made me an attendant to a business that she managed.
Beside her house she had a sewing house which employed a number of costureras. These dressmakers were as equally as beautiful as Segnora Belinda, and their talent were undeniable. They have the ladies of the city, exquisites and regal, as their clientele. It was not long before I found out that beneath the beautiful pieces of frocks that they produce hid their real trade. Unknown to the ladies of the city, their husbands were given different services at Segnora Belinda’s house while their wives were attended to at the dress shop.
Until the day came that I had to attend to one of the husbands in the city. I knew it was wrong at the time but I was highly indebted to Segnora Belinda. With both eyes closed, I succumbed to the old man’s pleasures. He did things to me that I knew he should only be doing to his wife. I realized then that he would not be the only man who would want to do such things to me; some women’s husband laying their hands on me; a woman who is a wife to none in matrimony, but a wife to several men in pleasure. It was then I accepted myself to be a mujer de publica”
Ana Rosa is interrupted as she feels the Teo’s hand gently caressing her hand. His skin pressing against her is no strange thing to her, but his warmth and genuine concern are completely foreign to her;
“I met a gentleman once. He was a Maestro de Orchestra at the parish of San Agustin in the city. He once visited Segnora Belinda’s house and he claimed to have been intrigued by my demeanor. To me, I knew he was just interested with my youth, so I attended to him like how I attended those men who came before him. The man came back the night after to request for me, but that night, he did not want anything from me but just my company. That one visit turned into a regular weekly visit and he would always asked for my company. For the first time since I worked at the brothel house I felt valued not as a commodity, but as another human being again
Until he told me one night that we wanted me only to himself that he bought a small house far from the busy streets. A small house where I will be the only woman inside attending him. He claimed that I can turn the foyer into a small store where I can sell anything my heart desires, so I can finally be free from that illegal trade that I found myself in.
It was not that easy to leave Segnora Belinda for I know she took it with a heavy heart the day I bid her goodbye. Without looking at me, the woman set me free and wished me with the best of luck. I had so many dreams about that small house that Segnor Marcelo has given me. I saw myself manning the small stall in the foyer selling abanico, sugary treats, canes, and obviously, cigars. Segnor Marcelo continued to visit me once a week for he had to stay at his mother’s house for the rest of the weeks.
But one day, a loud knock on the door brought me the darkest of my day. When I attended the door and opened it there I saw Segnora Belinda with an older woman dressed in the most exquisite frock that I have ever seen. With them were Guardia Civils holding a piece of yellowish paper which I was aware of. They were there to arrest me for they accused me for an illegal trade, that I was selling pleasures to men and that I turned that small house into a pleasure house. I could not fathom how Segnora Belinda just stood there pointing a finger at me for a trade that she was a culprit of
And that older woman standing with her who looked at me like I was an abomination was Segnor Marcelo’s mother. She claimed that I inflicted his son with syphilis from my filthy trade. I was called many names: a vagamunda, a harlot; and that I was a spawn of Lilith. I never saw Segnor Marcelo again. Apparently he believed Segnora Belinda’s and his mother’ claims. I could not blame him after all
I was arrested for an illegal trade and unpaid taxes; and I spent several months making a dwelling at the Carcel de Bilibid. While I was imprisoned, I realized that I should have stayed in the streets for I was free roaming them. Like a stray dog I was untied.
All those times I was imprisoned I was also thinking about you. About the young man who used to buy cigars from me for his professor but had suddenly stopped seeing me one day. I was worried that one day you might be back to look for me to buy cigars again. I was afraid that you might not find me in the streets where you usually find me in”
Ana Rosa softly sobs as she covers her mouth with her right hand. The young man rushes to wipe her flowing tears away with his fingers;
“I am so sorry for I had not been there, Nimfa,” he consoles, “I had to go home. I could not imagine the pain you had gone through”
“You could not have changed anything Teo, even if you stayed. You could be in the University and I would still have decided to come with Segnora Belinda anyway,”
Teo grabs the woman’s hand firmly as he stares into her eyes. Inside them he sees hints of relief as she slowly rids herself of the loads that has been plaguing her for years. He watches her as she takes another air in;
“My punishment for my crimes was banishment from Manila. I had to be exiled to a small community in Davao where I had to be cleared of diseases which I knew I was not inflicted of. On the eve of my banishment, at a port we were made to stay. I was summoned by one of the Civil Guards and he claimed that they had visitors from the province in the south and they knew of my previous trade. They finally vindicated me as they claimed that of all the mujeres de publicas imprisoned, I was the only one cleared of syphilis.
I was made to attend to the needs of a Lieutenant Governor from Pasi, a small town on the island of Panay. One of his Lieutenants was much silent than the others. His timid demeanor conceals a disability that only his superior knew of. They claimed that I would not be exiled in Davao anymore and that they could take me to Panay instead. They promised me not only freedom but a chance to live a life of an honored woman, as a respectable wife to the timid Lieutenant”
Ana Rosa finishes as she pulls the blanket to cover herself more. With a slow turn she glances at the young man who has been watching her silently;
“That is why I could not simply leave your Uncle despite all the bad things he has done to me,” she pauses, “he was still the man who made me redeemed myself from being a public woman. My being married to him was my token to be the respectable woman that I did not know I could be”
“It is still never too late, Nimfa” Teo exclaims,
Ana Rosa rises from the bed to fix her robe. With a final glance at the young man she smirks softly to respond;
“My husband might wake up without me beside him. I am sure he will look for his Ana Rosa,” she pauses, “I shall go now, Segnor”
The woman walks towards the door. As she storms off the room, the door is left widely open as gushing wind from the outside rushes its way in embracing the young man sprawling on his bed with a perplexed look on his face