POLICE officer Paguio’s house was once again alive with the sound of boisterous argument and breaking saucers. His wife, Manang Hendra, was assaulting him verbally about his overused manhood and some girl he met in town that night.
I perched myself atop a beer container and decided to peek in through the window. Ka Paguio’s clothes were soaked. Whether it was rainwater, cheap beer or his own vomit I was not quite sure.
“You were probably out with that girl from town again,” his wife, Manang Hendra said as Ka Paguio waddled his way into his room, shedding off his damp police uniform and tossing it over the woman’s face.
She turned to her window for a second, calling out to me, “Nandeng!” She paused just before the wet polo shirt landed On her face. She tossed it aside before motioning me to go out back. I gave her the paper bag full of monay. She in turn gave me a crisp twenty-peso bill.
“Here you go, Nandeng,” she said, surprising me with a five-peso mark-up on my usual commission as her “bread-buyer.” It was strange when the money would come from one’s English teacher. Inside, I heard cheery, upbeat music and children’s laughter coming from their living room. Curious, I leaned a little bit, glancing at the television playing some Christmas-themed children’s show with brief interludes of pure static.
“Would you like to come inside?” she asked. I gleefully agreed and sat on their rattan couch. On the screen, a fat man in red and white was desperately trying to climb into a square-shaped opening on a bricked roof.
He slid down and landed in a puff of charcoal dust. Stealthily, he snuck his hefty frame around the room, avoiding toy trains and stuffed animals, before making his way to a glowing tree in the center of the room with a star on top. He reached into his bag and brought out a box decorated with colorful, metallic wrapping. He reached for the cookies on a plate and a glass of milk, taking a bite and sip before being startled by the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.
Hypnotized, I did not notice that almost half an hour had passed. I slipped on my slippers, although not before Ka Paguio came bursting out of the bathroom half-naked and dripping, stumbling toward me and mumbling garbled words.
“Maybe Santa will bring your family a television set for Christmas,” she whispered. Excited, I rushed outside and began my walk home. I wondered if Manang Hendra’s prediction might come true. If it was, he was going to need a chimney get into our house. (The hole that the recent typhoon ripped through it might neither too festive nor inviting).
I decided to go to local junk shop and see if I could get either scrap metal or a spare tire. I walked down the street where everyone was busy with Christmas decorations. The Reyes family house―a two-story fortress lit by flickering pink reindeer with Santa Claus cracking his whip―was already begging for attention.
Mrs. Reyes, a jewelry aficionado with a passion for the color teal, from her bag to her car, was giving away candy canes to the carollers.
She went inside for a moment and re-emerged with a plastic tube. Its base had been ripped off, leaving just a green cylinder. I thought it would look nice on top of our roof and it seemed like even a morbidly obese man would be able to slide through.
I approached the gate and prepared myself for her forced American accent, which she did to try to impress the women in her husband’s charity events at the church.
“I’m sorry. I’m all out,” she said, puckering and licking her lips profusely. I did my best to match her English with what I learned from Mrs. Hendra’s classes.
“Actually, Ma’am,” I said, with a generous amount of twang for good measure. “I was wondering if I could have that green tube over there.”
“Really? You want that? What are you going to do with that?” she asked.
“I’m going to make a chimney on our roof so Santa can bring us something this year.”
She gave out a hardy, boisterous laugh. She continued to chuckle for a good minute as he threw her head back and forth and stomped her stilettos on the marble step in front of her door.
“What kind of idea is that? Such a dirty, stupid little boy! Don’t you know anything about quality control?”
“Your husband does,” I replied. “Isn’t that why he’s in Cagayan now with your former maid?”
She slammed the door in my face and I swore I could hear the faint sound of sobbing.
I came home to find the house empty. I seized the opportunity and used the spare ladder we had for climbing. It was not an impressive height. A cold breeze swept as I positioned the garbage can above the hole in our roof. I used the putty I borrowed from Mang Pedro to seal it into place and fasten it down. I realized that my mother would not like the breeze sweeping in. I used some spare plywood and wrote the word “Here” with my fingers using red paint I found lying around the roof. I scurried down before my mother caught me climbing up the roof again.
I recalled from the show at Mrs. Hendra’s house that Santa liked to take a bite out of cookies and take a sip of milk.
I scoured around and found some leftover stale pandesal and an unopened bottle of soda. I placed it just below the opening, hoping it might be acceptable. I returned to my quarters and eagerly waited, but I dozed off a few minutes later.
Suddenly, I heard the peculiar sound of footsteps on the roof, as well as our neighbor’s. It grew into a loud stomping, and then light, muffled steps before becoming more rhythmic and panicked.
I heard the plywood being tossed aside, and then afterwards a loud crashing noise. I walked quietly towards its epicenter, eager to see the signature scarlet hat and stocky, almost plush frame. Instead, a man in a torn t-shirt with blotches of dirt lay on his backside, bear-hugging a television set, in the middle of our house. I wanted to shout for my mother but I remembered she had gone out to play Mahjong with some of the local housewives.
“Santa Claus?” I inquired.
“Santisimo!” he exclaimed, hopping and nearly dropping the television out of fright. He tried to catch his breath and peeked outside, where flashlights were darting everywhere, and the barangay tanods were going from house to house trying asking if they have seen a man with a television come through.
“Ito. Regalo ko sa’yo,” he said nervously. The stranger motioned me to keep quiet. He approached me and dropped the television into my hands, landing the electronic box’s weight on me.
“Merry Christmas,” he said before taking a bite of the pandesal and swiping the bottle of cola. He snuck out the door, careful to avoid the search party.
I rushed outside with the television set and tried to find my mother at the sari-sari store just down the street. I was thrilled: we finally had a television of our own! I thought Mrs. Hendra must have been some sort of fairy godmother or something.
Finally, I found her and immediately I yelled out, “Ma! Ma!”
It was answered almost instantly by a shrill, startled voice: “Magnanakaw! Magnanakaw!”
Before I could set the television down, two lawmen had me by each arm and another hoisted the big black box up onto his shoulder.
“Anak! Anong ginagawa mo?” she asked, shocked and confused.
Speechless, I looked around and saw the man who had entered our house earlier. He was frantically haling a tricycle by the side of the road. I immediately pointed towards him while the two tanod local guards raced after him, tackling him and wrestling him to the ground. They escorted him to the station through a crowd of disturbed neighbors.
I saw Mrs. Hendra coming to greet me and my mother. She looked at the television before turning to me.
“Looks like I was right. Santa did bring you a television for Christmas,” she said.
“Too bad we have to give it back,” I thought to myself, until my mother gave me a sly wink.
“Maybe tomorrow,” my mother said as we both hauled the television silently back to our house, slipping behind the crowd and using the carolers’ songs to disguise our footsteps.
“Merry Christmas, Ma. I guess Santa was skinnier than I thought,” I said to her, eager to enjoy a special pancit dinner in front our “borrowed” television set. Cedric Allen P. Sta. Cruz