by Erma M. Cuizon


he was glad she was now able to drive far without the driving instructor. You’re doing well, he had said. In fact, Ester didn’t need a formal lesson from a driving school, he said. He told her she could have just asked a friend to refresh her on the lessons she had taken long ago. You never forget how to drive once you knew it, he said. As it was, only a few weeks of lessons were sufficient in her case. There was just one thing she had to keep in mind, to look at the side mirror before changing lanes. It’s basic, ma’am! he had shouted at her one time when the car almost hit the vehicle coming from behind on her right.

            She now looked at the mirror to her right, then to her left. Except for the vehicle ahead of her, there weren’t any cars to her sides, none at the back. It had been a long ride toward Carcar and she was now between the towns of Minglanilla and San Fernando. The next stop after San Fernando was Carcar. It would be worth it when she finally could convince Mrs. Villadolid about getting a 10-year Endowment, instead of Life. The woman seemed open to it the last time they talked about it. This was the advantage of having a car, she told herself. When Mrs. Villadolid said she couldn’t come to the city this weekend because she wasn’t feeling so well, but would have been glad to make a final decision, Ester just wouldn’t let go.

“I’ll go to Carcar to see you, if you don’t mind,” she had told the woman, as though she was doing her a favor.

"Oh, well…" said Mrs. Villadolid, looking a bit pleased. That surely was like a compliment, an insurance supervisor driving far to see you. It was easy to decide right there about driving to Carcar. Mrs.Villadolid need not come to the city, she told the woman, because Ester has the car. True, she wasn’t out of reach now when the possibility of a sale was in the air. It was also good she had a previous lesson on driving, it made things easier. She was still in high school when she had the lessons. But she never got to drive the family car. Her father refused to let her until she was old enough to get a license. She thought he was such a killjoy, a couple of her friends were driving, see that, she had told him.

“They are breaking the law,” he explained to her, talking like the lawyer that he was.

They have licenses, she insisted although she knew one had only a learner’s license.

They’re not yet 18, he said.

            But when Ester got married to Ben, a TV technician, she gave up the dream of having a car. No, the word wasn’t “give up.” There was no struggle of choice. The dream simply fell out of the wish list. How could anyone equate the worth of a man to a machine? She was in love with Ben when his simple talent of fixing a radio set became, to her eyes, touching up life in a piece of junk. He had magic hands, she had told friends. No, there was nothing extra great about a man tinkering with dirty spare parts, but there was the physical part of him, too —the way he stood tall, very tall, his gait, his hair that wasn’t quite black, you could tell him apart from the crowd.

            Ben’s handsome, yes! Ester was smiling now. And his shyness was attractive to her, she could have loved him forever. But no, Ben was kind when things were right as he saw right. She couldn’t help but imagine Ben seated beside her now while she was driving. The drive would be towards a fairy town past the city, past the city-like towns, on to the rustic land, up to the romantic far space beyond. But then he would ask where she got the money to buy the car. Installment, of course, she’d tell him. She’d add that she was able to sell more insurance this month. Not that much, is it, he’d ask doubtfully. Oh, yes, more than anyone thinks she could do, she could sell well, she’d insist. Then they would have ended up quarreling. 

No, it wouldn’t do. She had grown too independent of anyone after their separation, that she felt she didn’t know anymore how to give in, it gave her the one-track mind to push when selling insurance. It was only little Gary who had her completely captive, if she let him get away with it, simply because of her love for him. He wasn’t difficult to handle, she hardly had to insist. But their quarrel was always a game. When it got serious, the little boy stopped and checked himself. When he grows up and asserts himself, she wouldn’t mind then, nor care to object, she told herself. But for now, the two of them must survive on her strength alone. She must call the shots.

            Now the main road turned slightly left in the familiar curve. When she was a kid, she used to come to Carcar with her parents to visit the grandparents who actually came from Cotabato but settled in Carcar when they acquired a bit of property there. Ester recognized this turn as the entrance to the town. Soon, she found herself on the road flanked by Carcar’s old houses until she turned right to drive to a part of it where Mrs. Villadolid said she lived, a bit off the navel of the town, as Ester called the town kiosk. It wasn’t hard to find the house, a 1950s structure built a few meters off the road.

Mrs. Villadolid met her at the door, saying, “Good, you shouldn’t forget to come and visit your old hometown.”

            It wasn’t Ester’s hometown but if the woman insisted, why not? “Yes, I’m glad I’m here,” she said, quite truthfully, but not for that reason. She looked around the well-kept house. The woman did deserve a 10-Year Endowment, Ester said to herself.

            “You like the place?”

            “Oh, yes! Lovely.”

            “It’s not ours,” Mrs. Villadolid was saying as she led Ester in. “We’re just renting it.”

            “Really?”  Ester checked herself, a bit disappointed. But she conceded quietly that Mrs. Villadolid could use a 20-Year plan, then.

            “But we have a house built on the east side of the main road, a bigger place. It’s really finished, we’re moving there in a week’s time. We’re almost through spending for that. That’s why I thought I’d be able to pay more attention to some insurance….We bought an old property belonging to one of the original Carcar families who have moved to the city a long time ago, you know. The land used to be a farm but now it’s nearer the Poblacion than it seemed then, the town has really grown.”

            Oh, good. So then, back to… “We can talk about the 10-Year plan?” Ester smiled. “You deserve it, you know.”

            Mrs. Villadolid laughed. “We’ll get to that, Ester. First, you make yourself comfortable. Would you want ampaw? Or real food for breakfast, like our chicharon. Or just the sweet Tacoy, Carcar’s pomelo, how’s that? Or bocarillo?”

            They moved to the kitchen which had wide windows where just outside stood a lush caimito tree, its leaves reaching in. But its breadth didn’t cover the view of the morning sky. And it was windy in this part of the house, wonderful. There was no smell of smog, no noise of motor cars. Ester had forgotten how she loved coming to Carcar to the house of her Lola and play out in the garden. Today, there was a Chinese store in its place. Ester’s father got a good price for the inherited property the money of which he used to buy the house on Junquera street in Cebu City and the old car which he sold later.  

            They sat down before the breakfast table and Ester relished the native puto and sikuwati. She tried to take her time without looking too eager for the sales talk. But the woman was reveling in playing host. Her husband was off to office, the children in school.

She now showed Ester old pictures of the family, and one time-worn photo of an old Spanish gun. “This belonged to my great grandfather, Ester. Look.”

            “Are you related to Leon Kilat, Ma’am?” Ester now asked, as though they had all the morning to loll in.   

            “The revolutionary hero? I wish. But he didn’t come from here, Ester. He came as a stranger and was killed here. He had just come from the insurrection in Cebu City when it failed. I guess, he thought he was safe here in Carcar.”

            Mrs. Villadolid was now peeling pomelo, now saying that she taught history for two years before she got married and became a simple housewife.

            How could Ester now bring the conversation back to insurance? She had had two puto packs, she was close to getting desperate on her third pack, fourth would be the death of her.

            “The former owner of our land, they’re said to be descended from the principalia family who had Leon Kilat killed,” Mrs. Villadolid eagerly confided to Ester.

            Ah, there it was. Ester quickly said, “I’m glad you have that new house there, now you can have insurance. Both are good projects, ma’am, the house and insurance.”

            The woman looked as though she had been roused from lazing around. “Oh, yes. You know, I’ve been thinking, hija, could we perhaps defer the Plan? I could wait until things are really less tight than it is, just after we’ve spent so much on the new house.”

            Now Ester was feeling too heavy from too much puto. No, don’t think that way, please, she wanted to say. “But you can take your pick. Say, choose a 20-year plan.”

            Now Mrs. Villadolid sighed. “Yes, I know. Why not Life, at this time? I can switch later, can’t I?”

            “Yes, of course. Some plans are, uh, adjustable.” Ester noticed a cloud suddenly covering the new glare of morning as seen from the kitchen window. She hoped it wouldn’t rain.

            “Then Life would be the best for now,” the woman said.

            “Did Leon Kilat come from Cebu, really?” Ester shifted the topic.

            This shook Mrs. Villadolid a bit as she tried to refocus. “Oh, no. Don’t you know he came from Negros Oriental?”

            Ester nearly failed in History in class. She shook her head.

            “He was a Villegas, but a Leon all right, Pantaleon. A KKK who came to fight the Spaniards. I guess they got assigned here and there.”

            “Do they talk much about him here in Carcar, where they had him killed?”

            “I guess not. But history is history.”

            “Oh, yes,” Ester felt now it was time to go back to insurance. “You know, Mrs. Villadolid, one of the old families here got a good plan, although not from me. I was then just an agent. The Valencias.”

            “Oh, yes, really?”

            Ester sat up this time, now set for the kill. She rattled off the numerous pros, more than the cons, of the 10-year plan, gathering confidence with each lap she arrived at, until she heard the good woman say, “Oh, sige, hija. Did you bring any preliminary papers for me to sign? The 20-year will do.”

            The morning from this side of the house came back up from behind the threatening cloud that showed itself earlier. Carcar was as beautiful as when she last saw it with a child’s eye in her grandparents’ house.


Copyright 2002 by Erma M. Cuizon. All rights reserved.


 Writer's Bio: Erma Cuizon is an award-winning Filipino writer born and raised in the central Philippine island of Cebu. She edits Sun Star Daily’s Sunday magazine, Sun Star Weekend, and writes a regular column there.

Among her literary awards were the prestigious Philippine Free Press Literary Award for Fiction and the Mariano Manguerra Award for Outstanding Writer in the Literary Arts. Erma Cuizon has a bachelor's degree in literature from the College of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.  She is active in a local literary women’s group, the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu, and was one of its founding members. 

Erma's first book, Time of Year is a collection of essays, published by Giraffe Books in 1999.  Her second book published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House is a collection of short stories titled, Homecoming and Other Stories.   She has recently published her second collection of essays, Vital Flow and is currently working on a novel.






PALH Home/Online Inventory/Order/Links

E-mail questions/comments to
This page courtesy of Philippine American Literary House