The Visitation of the Gods by Gilda Cordero-Fernando

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The Visitation of the Gods (Gilda Cordero-Fernando)

The letter announcing the visitation (a yearly descent upon the school by the superintendent, the district supervisors and the division supervisors for "purposes of inspection and evaluation") had been delivered in the morning by a sleepy janitor to the principal. The party was, the attached circular revealed a hurried glance, now at Pagkabuhay, would be in Mapili by lunchtime, and barring typhoons, floods, volcanic eruptions and other acts of God, would be upon Pugad Lawin by afternoon.

Consequently, after the first period, all the morning classes were dismissed. The Home Economics building, where the fourteen visiting school officials were to be housed, became the hub of a general cleaning. Long-handled brooms ravished the homes of peaceful spiders from cross beams and transoms, the capiz of the windows were scrubbed to an eggshell whiteness, and the floors became mirrors after assiduous bouts with husk and candlewax. Open wood boxes of Coronaslar gas were scattered within convenient reach of the carved sofa, the Vienna chairs and the stag-horn hat rack.

The sink, too, had been repaired and the spent bulbs replaced; a block of ice with patches of sawdust rested in the hollow of the small unpainted icebox. There was a brief discussion on whether the French soap poster behind the kitchen door was to go or stay: it depicted a trio of languorous nymphs in various stages of dishabille reclining upon a scroll bearing the legend Parfumerie et Savonerie but the wood working instructor remembered that it had been put there to cover a rotting jagged hole - and the nymphs had stayed.

The base of the flagpole, too, had been cemented and the old gate given a whitewash. The bare grounds were, within the remarkable space of two hours, transformed into a riotous bougainvillea garden. Potted blooms were still coming in through the gate by wheelbarrow and bicycle. Buried deep in the secret earth, what supervisor could tell that such gorgeous specimens were potted, or that they had merely been borrowed from the neighboring houses for the visitation? Every school in the province had its special point of pride - a bed of giant squashes, an enclosure or white king pigeons, a washroom constructed by the PTA. Yearly, Pugad Lawin High School had made capital of its topography: rooted on the firm ledge of a hill, the schoolhouse was accessible by a series of stone steps carved on the hard face of the rocks; its west windows looked out on the misty grandeur of a mountain chain shaped like a sleeping woman. Marvelous, but the supervisors were expecting something tangible, and so this year there was the bougainvillea.

The teaching staff and the student body had been divided into four working groups. The first group, composed of Mrs. Divinagracia, the harassed Home Economics instructor, and some of the less attractive lady teachers, were banished to the kitchen to prepare the menu: it consisted of a 14-lbs. suckling pig, macaroni soup, embutido, chicken salad, baked lapu-lapu, morcon, leche flan and ice cream, the total cost of which had already been deducted from the teachers' pay envelopes. Far be it to be said that Pugad Lawin was lacking in generosity, charm or good tango dancers! Visitation was, after all, 99% impression - and Mr. Olbes, the principal, had promised to remember the teachers' cooperation in that regard in the efficiency reports.

The teachers of Group Two had been assigned to procure the beddings and the dishes to be used for the supper. In true bureaucratic fashion they had relegated the assignment to their students, who in turn had denuded their neighbors' homes of cots, pillows, and sleeping mats. The only bed properly belonging to the Home Economics Building was a four-poster with a canopy and the superintendent was to be given the honor of slumbering upon it. Hence it was endowed with the grandest of the sleeping mats, two sizes large, but interwoven with a detailed map of the archipelago. Nestling against the headboard was a quartet of the principal's wife's heart-shaped pillows - two hard ones and two soft ones - Group Two being uncertain of the sleeping preferences of division heads.