THE HOUSE ON ZAPOTE STREET
Quijano de Manila
About the Author
Quijano de Manila is the pen name of Nick Joaquin. He started writing before the war and his first story, "Three Generations" has been hailed as a masterpiece. He has been recipient of almost all the prestigious awards in literature and the arts, including the National Artist Award for Literature in 1976. He was also conferred, among other recognitions, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature in 1961, the Journalist of the Year Award in the early 1960s, the Book of the Year Award in 1979 for his Almanac for Manileños, the national Book award for several of his works, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, Creative Communication Arts (the Asian counterpart of Nobel Prize) in 1996, and the Tanglaw ng Lahi Award in 1997.
Dr. Leonardo Quitangon, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, cool-tempered Caviteno, was still fancy-free at 35 when he returned to Manila, after six years abroad. Then, at the University of Santo Tomas, where he went to reach, he met Lydia Cabading, a medical intern. He liked her quiet ways and began to date her steadily. They went to the movies and to baketball games and he took her a number of times to his house in Sta. Mesa, to meet his family.
Lydia was then only 23 and looked like a sweet unspoiled girl, but there was a slight air of mystery about her. Leonardo and his brothers noticed that she almost never spoke of her home life or her childhood; she seemed to have no gay early memories to share with her lover, as sweethearts usually crave to do. And whenever it looked as if she might have to stay out late, she would say: "I'll have to tell my father first". And off she would go, wherever she was, to tell her father, though it meant going all the way to Makati, Rizal, where she lived with her parents in a new house on Zapote Street.
The Quitangons understood that she was an only child and that her parents were, therefore, over-zealous in looking after her. Her father usually took her to school and fetched her after classes, and had been known to threaten to arrest young men who stared at her on the streets or pressed too close against her on jeepneys. This high-handedness seemed natural enough, for Pablo Cabading, Lydia's father was a member of the Manila Police Depatment.
After Lydia finished her internship, Leopardo Quitangon became a regular visitor at the house on Zapote Street: he was helping her prepare for the board exams. Her family seemed to like him. The mother Anunciacion, struck him as a mousy woman unable to speak save at her husband's bidding. There was a foster son, a little boy the Cabadings had adopted. As for Pablo Cabading, he was a fine strapping man, an Ilocano, who gave the impression of being taller than he was and looked every inch an agent of the law: full of brawn and guts and force, and smoldering with vitality. He was a natty dresser, liked youthful colors and styles, decorated his house with pictures of himself and, at 50, looked younger than his inarticulate wife, who was actually two years younger than he.
When Leonardo started frequenting the house on Zapote Street, Cabading told him: ill be frank with you. None of Lydia's boy friends ever lasted ten minutes in this house. I didn't like them and I told them so and made them get out." Then he added laying a hand on the young doctor's shoulder:" But I like you. You are a good man."
The rest of the household were two very young maids who spoke almost no Tagalog, and two very fierce dogs, chained to the front door in the day time, unchained in the front yard at night.
The house of Zapote Street is in the current architectural cliché: the hoity-toity Philippine split-level suburban style-a half-story perched above the living area, to which it is bound by the slope of the roof and which it overlooks from a balcony, so that a person standing in the sala can see the doors of the bedrooms and bathroom just above his head. The house is painted, as is also the current fashion, in various pastel shades, a different color to every three or four planks. The inevitable piazza curves around two sides of the house, which has a strip of lawn and a low wall all around it. The Cabadings did not keep a car, but the house provides for an eventual garage and driveway. This, and the furniture, the shell lamps and the fancy bric-a-brac that clutters the narrow house indicate that the Cabadings had not only risen high enough to justify their split-level pretensions but were expecting to go higher.
Lydia took the board exams and passed them. The lovers asked her father's permission to wed. Cabading laid down two conditions: that the wedding would ba a lavish one and that was to pay a downy of P5.000.00. The young doctor said that he could afford the big wedding but the big dowry. Cabading shrugged his shoulders; no dowry, no marriage.
Leonarado spent some frantic weeks scraping up cash and managed to gather P3.000.00. Cabading agreed to reduce his price to that amount, then laid down a final condition: after the wedding, Lydia and Leonardo must make their home at the house on Zapote Street.
"I built this house for Lydia," said Cabading, "and I want her to live here even when she's married. Besides, her mother couldn't bear to be separated from Lydia, her only child."
There was nothing. Leonardo could do but consent.
Lydia and Leonardo were on September 10 last year, at the Cathedral of Manila, with Mrs. Delfin Montano, wife of the Cavite governor, and Senator Ferdinand Marcos as sponsors. The reception was at the Selecta. The status gods of Suburdia were properly propitiated. Then the newlyweds went to live on Zapote Street -- and Leonardo almost immediately realized why Lydia had been so reticent and mysterious about her home life.
The cozy family group that charmed him in courtship days turned out to be rather too cozy. The entire household revolved in submission around Pablo Cabading. The daughter, mother, the foster-son, the maids and even the dogs trembled when the lifted his voice. Cabading liked to brag that was a "killer": in 1946 he had shot dead two American soldiers he caught robbing a neighbor's house in Quezon City.
Leonardo found himself within a family turned in on itself, self-enclosed and self-sufficient - in a house that had no neighbors and no need for any. His brothers say that he made more friends in the neighborhood within the couple of months he stayed there than the Cabadings had made in a year. Pablo Cabading did not like what his to stray out of, and what was not his to stray into, his house. And within that house he wanted to be the center of everything, even of his daughter's honeymoon.
Whenever Leonardo and Lydia went to the movies or for a ride, Cabading insisted on being taken along. If they seated him on the back scat while they sat together in front, be raged and glowered. He wanted to sit in front with them.
When Leonardo came home from work, he must not tarry with Lydia in the bedroom chatting: both of them must come down at once to the sala and talk with their father. Leonardo explained that he was not much of a talking: "That's why I fell in love with Lydia, because she's the quiet type too". No matter, said Cabading. They didn't have to talk at all; he would do all the talking himself, so long as they sat there in the sala before his eyes.
So, his compact family group sat around him at night, silent, while Cabading talked and talked. But, finally, the talk had stop, the listeners had to rise and retire - and it was this moment that Cabading seemed unable to bear. He couldn't bear to see Lydia and Leonardo rise and go up together to their room. One night, unable to bear it any longer he shouted, as they rose to retire:
"Lydia, you sleep with your mother tonight. She has a toothache." After a dead look at her husband, Lydia obeyed. Leonardo went to bed alone.
The incident would be repeated: there would always be other reasons, besides Mrs. Cabading's toothaches.
What horrified Leonardo was not merely what being done to him but his increasing acquiesces. Had his spirit been so quickly broken? Was he, too, like the rest of the household, being drawn to revolve, silently and obediently, around the master of the house?
Once, late at night, he suddenly showed up at his parents' house in Sta. Mesa and his brothers were shocked at the great in him within so short a time. He looked terrified. What had happened? His car had broken down and he had had it repaired and now he could not go home. But why not?
"You don't know my father-in-law," he groaned. "Everybody in that house must be in by a certain hour. Otherwise, the gates are locked, the doors are locked, the windows are locked. Nobody can get in anymore!"
A younger brother, Gene offered to accompany him home and explain to Cabading what had happened. The two rode to Zapote and found the house dark and locked up.
Says Gene: "That memory makes my blood boil -- my eldest brother fearfully clanging and clanging the gate, and nobody to let him in. 1 wouldn't have waited a second, but he waited five, ten, fifteen minutes, knocking at thai gate, begging to be let in. I couldn't have it!"
In the end the two brothers rode back to Sta. Mesa, where Leonardo spent the night. When he returned to the house on Zapote the next day, his father-in-law greeted him with a sarcastic question: "Where were you? At a basketball game?"
Leonardo became anxious to take his wife away from that house. He talked it over with her, then they went to tell her father. Said Cabading bluntly: "If she goes with you, I'll shoot her head before your eyes."
His brothers urged him to buy a gun, but Leonardo felt in his pocket and said, "I've got my rosary." Cried his brother Gene: "You can't fight a gun with a rosary!".
When Lydia took her oath as a physician, Cabading announced that only he and his wife would accompany Lydia to the ceremony. I would not be fair, he said, to let Leonardo, who had not borne the expenses of Lydia's education, to share that moment of glory too. Leonardo said that, if he would like them at least to use his car. The offer was rejected. Cabading preferred to hire a taxi.
After about two months at the house on Zapote Street, Leonardo moved out, alone. Her parents would not let Lydia go and she herself was too afraid to leave. During the succeeding weeks, efforts to contact her proved futile. The house on Zapote became even more closed to the outside world. If Lydia emerged from it at all, she was always accompanied by her father, mother or foster-brother, or by all three.
When her husband heard that she had started working at a hospital he went there to see her but instead met her father coming to fetch her. The very next day, Lydia was no longer working at the hospital.
Leonardo knew that she was with child and he was determined to bear all her prenatal expenses. He went to Zapote one day when her father was out and persuaded her to come out to the yard but could not make her make the money he offered across the locked gate. "Just mail it," she cried and fled into the house. He sent her a check by registered mail; it was promptly mailed back to him.
On Christmas Eve, Leonardo returned to the house on Zapote with a gift for his wife, and stood knocking at the gate for so long the neighbors gathered at windows to watch him. Finally, he was allowed to enter, present his gift to Lydia and talk with her for a moment. She said that her father seemed agreeable to a meeting with Leonardo's father, to discuss the young couple's problem. So the elder Quitangon and two of his younger sons went to Zapote one evening. The lights were on in Cabading house, but nobody responded to their knocking. Then all the lights were turned off. As they stood wondering what to do, a servant girl came and told them that the master was out. (Lydia would later tell them that they had not been admitted because her father had not yet decided what she was to say to them.)
The last act of this curious drama began Sunday last week when Leonardo was astounded to receive an early-morning phone call from his wife. She said she could no longer bear to be parted from him and bade him pick her up at a certain church, where she was with her foster brother. Leonardo rushed to the church, picked up two, dropped the boy off at a street near Zapote, then sped with Lydia to Maragondon, Cavite where the Quitangons have a house. He stopped at a gasoline station to call up his brothers in Sta. Mesa, to tell them what he had done and to warn them that Cabading would surely show up there. "Get Mother out of the house," he told his brothers.
At about ten in the morning, a taxi stopped before the Quitangon house in Sta. Mesa and Mrs. Cabading got out and began screaming at the gate: "Where's my daughter? Where's my daughter?" Gene and Nonilo Quitangin went out to the gate and invited her to come in. "No! No! All I want is my daughter!" she screamed. Cabading, who was inside the waiting taxi, then got out and demanded that the Quitangons produce Lydia. Vexed, Nonilo Quitangon cried: "Abah, what have we do with where your daughter is? Anyway, she's with her husband." At that, Cabading ran to the taxi, snatched a submachinegun from a box, and trained it on Gene Quitangon. (Nonilo had run into the house to get a gun.)
"Produce my daughter at once or I'll shoot you all down!" shouted Cabading.
Gene, the gun's muzzle practically in his face, sought to pacify the older man: "Why can't we talk this over quietly, like decent people, inside the house? Look, we're creating a scandal in the neighborhood.."
Cabading lowered his gun. "I give you till midnight tonight to produce my daughter," he growled. "If you don't, you better ask the PC to guard this house!"
Then he and his wife drove off in the taxi, just a moment before the mobile police patrol the neighbors had called arrived. The police advised Gene to file a complaint with the fiscal's office. Instead, Gene decided to go to the house on Zapote Street, hoping that "diplomacy" would work.
To his surprise, he was admitted at once by a smiling and very genial Cabading. "You are a brave man," he told Gene, "and a lucky one", And he ordered a coke brought for the visitor. Gene said that he was going to Cavite but could not promise to "produce". Lydia by midnight: it was up to the couple to decide whether they would come back.
It was about eight in the evening when Gene arrived in Maragondon. As his car drove into the yard of this family's old house, Lydia and Leonardo
appeared at a window and frantically asked what had happened. "Nothing," said Gene, and their faces lit up. "We're having our honeymoon at last," Lydia told Gene as he entered the house. And the old air of dread, of mystery, did seem to have lifted from her face. But it was there again when, after supper, he told them what had happened in Sta. Mesa.
"I can't go back," she moaned. "He'll kill me! He'll kill me!"
"He has cooled down now," said Gene. "He seems to be a reasonable man after all."
"Oh, you don't know him!" cried Lydia. "I've known him longer, and I've never, never been happy!"
And the brothers at last had glimpses of the girlhood she had been so reticent about. She told them of Cabading's baffling changes of temper, especially toward her; how smiles and found words and caresses could abruptly turn into beatings when his mood darkened.
Leonardo said that his father-in-law was an artista, "Remember how he used to fan me when I supped there while I was courting Lydia?"
(At about that time, in Sta. Mesa, Nonilo Quitanongon, on guard at the gate of his family's house, saw Cabading drive past three times in a taxi.)
"I can't force you to go back," said Gene. "You'll have to decide that yourselves. But what, actually, are you planning to do? You can't stay forever here in Maragondon. What would you live on?"
The two said they would talk it over for a while in their room. Gene waited at the supper table and when a long time had passed and they had not come back he went to the room. Finding the door ajar, he looked in. Lydia and Leonardo were on their knees on the floor, saying the rosary, Gene returned to the supper table. After another long wait, the couple came out of the room.
Said Lydia: "We have prayed together and we have decided to die together." We'll go back with you, in the morning."
They we're back in Manila early the next morning. Lydia and Leonardo went straight to the house in Sta. Mesa, where all their relatives and friends warned them not to go back to the house on Zapote Street, as they had decided to do. Confused anew, they went to the Manila police headquarters to ask for advice, but the advice given seemed drastic to them: summon Cabading and have it out with him in front of his superior officer. Leonardo's father then offered to go to Zapote with Gene and Nonilo, to try to reason with Cabading.
They found him in good humor, full of smiles and hearty greetings. He reproached his balae for not visiting him before. "I did come once," drily remarked the elder Quitangon, "but no one would open the gate." Cabading had his wife called. She came into the room and sat down. "Was I in the house that night our balae came?" her husband asked her. "No, you were out," she replied. Having spoken her piece, she got up and left the room. (On their various visits to the house on Zapote Street, the Quitangons noticed that Mrs. Cabading appeared only when summoned and vanished as soon as she had done whatever was expected of her).
Cabading then announced that he no longer objected to Lydia's moving out of the house to live with her husband in an apartment of their own. Overjoyed, the Quitangons urged Cabading to go with them in Sta. Mesa, so that the newlyweds could be reconciled with Lydia's parents. Cabading readily agreed.
When they arrived in Sta. Mesa, Lydia and Leonardo were sitting on a sofa in the sala.
"Why have you done this?" her father chided her gently. "If you wanted to move out, did you have to run away?" To Leonardo, he said: "And you - are angry with me?" house by themselves. Gene Quitangon felt so felt elated he proposed a celebration: "I'll throw a blow-out! Everybody is invited! This is on me!" So they all went to Max's in Quezon City and had a very merry fried-chicken party. "Why, this is a family reunion!" laughed Cabading. "This should be on me!" But Gene would not let him pay the bill.
Early the next morning, Cabading called up the Sta. Mesa house to pay that his wife had fallen ill. Would Lydia please visit her? Leonardo and Lydia went to Zapote, found nothing the matter with her mother, and returned to Sta. Mesa. After lunch, Leonardo left for his classes. Then Cabading called up again. Lydia's mother refused to eat and kept asking for her daughter. Would Lydia please drop in again at the house on Zapote? Gene and Nonilo Quitangon said they might as well accompany Lydia there and start moving out her things.
When they arrived at the Zapote house, the Quitangon brothers were amused by what they saw. Mrs. Cabading, her eyes closed, lay on the parlor sofa, a large towel spread out beneath her. "She has been lying there all day," said Cabading, "tossing restlessly, asking for you, Lydia." Gene noted that the towel was neatly spread out and didn't look crumpled at all, and that Mrs. Cabading was obviously just pretending to be asleep. He smiled at the childishness of the stratagem, but Lydia was past being amused. She wont straight to her room, were they heard her pulling out drawers. While the Quitangons and Cabading were conversing, the supposedly sick mother slipped out of the sofa and went upstairs to Lydia's room.
Cabading told the Quitangons that he wanted Lydia and Leonardo to stay there; at the house in Zapote. "I thought all that was settled last night," Gene groaned.
"I built this house for Lydia," persisted Cabading, "and this house is hers. If she and her husband want to be alone, I and my wife will move out of here, turn this house over to them." Gene wearily explained that Lydia and Leonardo preferred the apartment they had already leased.
Suddenly the men heard the clatter of a drawer falling upstairs. Gene surmised that it had fallen in a struggle between mother and daughter. "Excuse me," said Cabading, rising. As he went upstairs, he said to the Quitangons, over his shoulder, "Don't misunderstand me. I'm not going to 'coach' Lydia". He went into Lydia's room and closed the door behind him.
After a long while, Lydia and her father came out of the room together and came down to the sala together. Lydia was clasping a large crucifix. There was no expression on her face when she told the Quitangon boys to go home. "But I thought we were going to start moving your things out this afternoon,," said Gene. She glanced at the crucifix and said it was one of the first things she wanted taken to her new home. "Just tell Narding to fetch me," she said.
Back in Sta. Mesa, Gene and Nonilo had the painful task of telling Leonardo, when he phoned, that Lydia was back in the house on Zapote. "Why did you leave her there?" cried Leonardo. "He'll beat her up! I'm going to get her." Gene told him not you go alone, to pass by the Sta. Mesa house first and pick up Nonilo. Gene could not go along; he had to catch a bus for Subic, where he works. When Leonardo arrived, Gene told him: "Don't force Lydia to go with you. If she doesn't want to, leave at once. Do not, for any reason, be persuaded to stay there too."
When his brother had left for Zapote, Gene realized that he was not sure he was going to Subic. He left too worried. He knew he couldn't rest easy until he had seen Lydia and Leonardo settled in their new home. The minutes quickly ticked past as he debated with himself whether he should stay or catch that bus. Then, at about a quarter to seven, the phone rang. It was Nonilo, in anguish.
"Something terrible has happened in Lydia's room! I heard four shots," he cried.
"Who are up there?"
"Lydia and Narding and the Cabadings."
"I'll be right over.
Gene sent a younger brother to inform the family lawyer and to alert the Makati police. Then he drove like mad to Zapote. It was almost dark when he got there. The house stood perfectly still, not a light on inside. He watched it from a distance but could see no movement, Then a taxi drove up and out jumped Nonilo. He had telephoned from a gasoline station. He related what had happened.
He said that when he and Leonardo arrived at the Zapote house, Cabading motioned Leonardo upstairs: "Lydia is in her room." Leonardo went up; Cabading gave Nonilo a cup of coffee and chatted amiably with him. Nonilo saw Mrs. Cabading go up to Lydia's room with a glass of milk. A while later, they heard a woman scream, followed by sobbing. "There seems to be trouble up there," said Cabading, and he went upstairs. Nonilo saw him enter Lydia's room, leaving the door open. A few moments later, the door was closed. Then Nonilo heard three shots. He stood petrified, but when he heard a fourth shot he dashed out of the house, ran to a gasoline station and called up Gene.
Nonilo pointed to the closed front gate; he was sure he had left it open when he ran out. The brothers suspected that Cabading was lurking somewhere in the darkness, with his gun.
Before them loomed the dark house, now so sinister and evil in their eyes. The upper story that jutted forward, forming the house's chief facade, bore a curious sign: Dra. Lydia C. Cabading, Lady Physician. (Apparently, Lydia continued- or was made- to use her maiden name.) Above the sign was the garland of colored lights that have been put up for Christmas and had not yet been removed. It was an ice-cold night, the dark of the moon, but the two brothers shivered not from the wind blowing down the lonely murky street but from pure horror of the house that had so fatally thrust itself into their lives.
But the wind remembered when the sighs it heard here were only the sighing of the ripe grain, when the cries it heard were only the crying of birds nesting in the reeds, for all these new suburbs in Makati used to be grassland, riceland, marshland, or pastoral solitudes where few cared to go, until the big city spilled hither, replacing the uprooted reeds with split-levels, pushing noisy little streets into the heart of the solitude, and collecting here from all over the country the uprooted souls that now moan or giggle where once the carabao wallowed and the frogs croaked day and night. In very new suburbs, one feels human sorrow to be a grass intrusion on the labors of nature. Even barely two years ago, the talahib still rose man-high on the plot of ground on Zapote Street where now stands the relic of an ambiguous love.
As the Quitangon brothers shivered in the darkness, a police van arrived and unloaded quite a large contingent of policemen. The Quitangons warned them that Cabading had a submachinegun. The policemen crawled toward the front gate and almost jumped when a young girl came running across the yard, shaking with terror and shrieking gibberish. She was one of the maids. She and her companion and the foster son had fled from the house when they heard the shooting and had been hiding in the yard. It was they who had closed the front gate.
A policeman volunteered to enter the house through the back door; Gene said he would try the front one. He peered in at a window and could detect no one in the sala. He slipped a hand inside, opened the front door and entered, just as the policeman came in from the kitchen. As they crept up the stairs they heard a moaning in Lydia's room. They tried the door but it was blocked from inside. "Push it, push it," wailed a woman's voice. The policeman pushed the door hard and what was blocking it gave. He groped for the switch and turned light. As they entered, he and Gene shuddered at what they saw.
The entire room was spattered with blood. On the floor, blocking the door, lay Mrs. Cabading. She had been shot in the chest and stomach but was still alive. The policeman tried to get a statement from her but all she could say was: "My hand, my hand- it hurts!" She was lying across the legs of her daughter, who lay on top of her husband's body. Lydia was still clutching an armful of clothes; Leonardo was holding a clothes hanger. He had been shot in the breast; she, in the heart. They had died instantly, together.
Sprawled face up on his daughter's bed, his mouth agape and his eyes bulging open as though still staring in horror and the bright blood splashed on his face lay Pablo Cabading.
"Oh, I cursed him!" cries Eugenio Quitangon with passion. "Oh, I cursed him as he lay there dead, God forgive me! Yes, I cursed that dead man there on that bed, for I had wanted to find him alive!"
From the position of the bodies and from Mrs. Cabading's statements later at the hospital, it appears that Cabading shot Lydia while she was shielding her husband, and Mrs. Cabading when she tried to shield Lydia. Then he turned the gun on himself, and it's an indication of the man's uncommon strength and power that, after the first shot, through the right side of the head, which must have been mortal enough, he seems to have been able, as his hands dropped to his breast, to fire at himself a second time. The violent spasm of agony must have sent the gun - a .45 caliber pistol- flying from his hand. It was found at the foot of the bed, near Mrs. Cabading's feet.
The drama of the jealous father had ended at about half-past six in the evening, Tuesday last week.
The next day, hurrying commuters slowed down and a whispering crowd gathered before 1074 Zapote Street, to watch the police and the reporters going through the pretty little house that Pablo Cabading built for his Lydia.