“How Much is your bar fine?”
an excerpt from
SHARK TOOTH ROSARY
A Sea Story
By Malcolm Torres
In this excerpt from Shark Tooth Rosary, A Sea Story, Christopher Marlow and Maribell Batrina meet at the Runway bar in Olongapo City and decide to take a road trip to Legazpi City. This story is free on Amazon Kindle and the Kindle App from Oct 24 to 28, 2016. The Kindle App is free on all devices.
* * *
Maribell Batrina napped on big burlap sacks of rice in the Runway Bar’s pantry. Long black hair covered her face, covered eye’s that cried in a dream—
Though she’d never been to Manila International Airport, Maribell recognized the departure concourse from previous dreams. Tall columns held up a ceiling that arched high above a frantic crowd. People lugging boxes and suitcases swarmed in all directions. A booming voice announced arrivals and departures. Children ran screaming, calling for their mothers. Beggars worked the crowd. Young men in imitation Polo shirts shouted offers of jeepney rides to local hotels and bars. Guards with guns stood at gates where people lined up to show their passports and visas. Beyond the gates Maribell saw brightly lit ticket counters, where clerks in suits and ties attended to those fortunate enough to get past the guards.
A tremendous fat man with gigantic suitcases clenched in big hands at the ends of hairy arms plowed through the crowd, directly at Maribell, like a bulldozer about to crush her under the desperate mob. At the last second, when the big man was almost upon her, a hand pulled Maribell out of the way. The hand belonged to Maribell’s friend Florita.
Maribell clung to Florita so the churning crowd would not tear them apart. Florita’s hair smelled like herbal shampoo. Her nails where polished white with glitter on the tips.
“Where are you going, Florita?”
“To America with my husband.” Florita smiled, her teeth gleaming white behind perfectly glossed lips.
“How did you meet such a good man?” Maribell asked.
Florita squinted shrewdly and looked deep into Maribell’s eyes. Her look said, don’t be a prude, Maribell. An American sailor won’t take a prudish girl back to the states. Florita leaned in and whispered in Maribell’s ear, “The old sailors have lots of money but they will only take you to a hotel and eat you like a ripe mango. The old ones promise you everything but they are married already. They won’t take you back to the states with them, so forget about the old sailors.”
“There must be a good man for me!” Maribell mumbled as dream-tears dripped from her eyes.
The line of people moved closer to the gate, closer to the guards wearing helmets, carrying guns. In a panic, Maribell realized she was not going to be allowed to go through the gate with her friend. She studied Florita, desperate to understand what she had done to attract an American who would take her to the states.
Florita wore brand new designer jeans, leather shoes and a silky-sheer purple blouse. Her Samsonite suitcase seemed to float magically at the end of her skinny arm. A diamond engagement ring twinkled on Florita’s hand.
Out of the crowd, a young man appeared with a sparkling smile. He wore the traditional white sailor’s cracker jacks and a white sailor’s cap atop his head. He kissed Florita on the lips and handed her a passport and plane tickets. He spoke like a cowboy, “Darlin’,” he said, “are flight fer California is leavin’ rat now.”
Maribell looked at this handsome young man and felt her heart ache with jealousy.
Struggling against the crowd, and stirring in her sleep on the burlap sacks of rice, Maribell tried to catch up to her friend. She grabbed a handful of Florita’s blouse and cried, “I want to come to America with you!” But Florita was gone and Maribel found herself face to face with an old woman who laughed shrilly as if she were crazy. Deep lines wrinkled the old woman’s rouge and mascara. A gravelly whisper from the old woman’s lips, “So, you want to know how you get a young sailor to put a diamond on your finger?”
“Yes, please tell me,” Maribell said desperately.
“Stick your tongue in his ear and whisper naughty words,” the old woman cackled. “That’s how you get a young sailor to take you to America.”
The fat man with the black suitcases at the ends of his hairy arms reappeared and bulldozed Maribell through the crowd. She ran to get out of his way and the scene transformed into a nightclub dance floor. Marines and sailors surrounded her. Pulsing music and flashing disco lights. Hands from the dark groped at her, but still she struggled after Florita. She could see the back of her friend’s blouse and her long black hair through the crowd. Maribell reached out and grabbed Florita’s shoulder, shook hard and right then awoke from her dream.
“Maribell, wake up right now!” Mamasan, a 280-pound woman with knuckles like ham bones and cheeks like pork chops, whispered urgently. “There’s a sailor at table twenty-three and he wants a girl. Go to him now!”
Maribell stretched and yawned.
“He turned away four girls already!” Mamasan said. “Go!”
She pulled on a black skirt, zipped the back and snatched a tank top off a pile of clothes. In a broken mirror that hung on a nail, she applied eye liner.
Hope filled her when dreams revealed secrets, because dreams were all she had. She knelt and prayed a quick Hail Mary, calling on the Blessed Virgin to send her a good man.
As she made her way through the crowded bar she thought about Florita, now married to a handsome Texan. They lived in San Diego in an air-conditioned condominium. Florita sent postcards from Disneyland and photos of her blue Trans Am.
Dear God, Maribell prayed under her breath, find me a handsome man like the one you found for my dear friend Florita.
* * *
Christopher Marlow drank a TruCola and admired Maribell’s cheekbones, the delicate line of her jaw, her thin lips and long black hair falling over petite shoulders. It troubled him that she didn’t talk much because he needed a girl to do his bartering.
“I’m not interested in barhopping,” he said. “I want you to travel with me, to deal with bus tickets, waiters, hotel clerks and anybody else who wants money. You want to come with me?”
She thought about the words he’d said, the ones she could understand: “Barhopping, hotel, come with me.” She liked his clean shaven chin, and the way his T-shirt stretched across his chest. It was nice, the way he sat back and kept his hands to himself. He seemed to appraise her with a relaxed gaze; unlike most sailors who groped her like a piece of fruit on a street vendor’s stand. He has manners, she mused. She glanced at the table’s empty ashtray and thought it was also nice that he didn’t smoke. Though she saw no tan line on his ring finger, Maribell exhausted half her English vocabulary to ask, “You married man?”
“No,” Chris replied. A sudden thirst for a cold beer set off an alarm in his head, and he immediately wanted to hurry to the bus station. “Will you come with me?” he asked her again.
Maribell wondered what to do, she thought about the advice Florita and the old woman had given her. The loud music in the club made it hard to think.
“How much is your bar fine for four days?” Chris asked.
Did he say four days, she wondered. That’s plenty of time to talk about marriage, she realized. “Four hundred peso,” she said. That was her price, a hundred pesos a day.
Chris wondered if she understood his plan and considered discussing it with the Mamasan. His new watch said six fifteen. Do busses run to Legazpi city this late, he wondered and counted twenties and peso bills under the table. While trying to calculate the exchange rate, twenty-one pesos on the dollar, a table full of rowdy marines next to them frustrated the math in his head.
He glanced over and saw her staring intently at him.
She’s beautiful, he realized and gave her the money to pay the Mamasan. He said, “I’ll wait for you outside.”
* * *
Storefronts spilled woodcarvings and wicker furniture onto the sidewalks. Bails of T-shirts and embroidered ball caps hung like banana bunches in shop-awning shadows. Counterfeit designer sunglasses gleamed in display windows.
Jeepneys rolled by on the street, painted outrageous combinations of orange, blue, red and yellow. Shining chrome hood ornaments of the Virgin Mary and angles with spinning pinwheel wings made every jeepney look like a rolling shrine.
In blue jeans and a skimpy top, Maribell came out of the club. Chris took her hand and stepped to the curb where he flagged a jeep.
Immediately one of the gaily decorated vehicles pulled over. The back seat was crammed with sailors and marines and their dates. Several kids in shorts and sandals stood on the running boards. Maribell and Chris climbed into the front seat on the passenger side.
“At the bus station you can buy the tickets,” he said.
“Okay,” she replied, wondering what he said.
When Chris saw the long strand of rosary beads fashioned from shark’s teeth dangling on the rearview mirror, all the day’s commotion vanished. He examined the bloody Christ on the small wooden cross; nails driven through wrists and ankles. On the gigantic crucifixes in Philadelphia churches, Chris hadn’t seen the pain and suffering he saw there on the tiny hand-carved cross. He wondered how the nuns at his childhood grade school would judge the sins he’d committed as a sailor on shore leave.
Could a prayer on a predator’s sharp tooth absolve him?
The crucifix swayed between Maribell’s knees as the jeep rounded corners. She held a shark tooth between her fingertips and prayed silently, “Hail Mary full of grace–”
The jeep weaved through traffic on the crowded boulevard.
“Ask when we’ll be at the bus station.”
“Barhopping?” she asked, moving her hand from a shark tooth rosary bead to Chris’s knee.
He was speaking to her, but she couldn’t understand him. His voice was strained. She didn’t want to screw this up.
He wondered desperately what to do, pointed to her and then to himself and said slowly, “We go to Legazpi City.”
She spoke with the driver in their native Tagalog. Then the driver said, “Joe, no more busses to Legazpi City tonight. Maybe tomorrow.”
Chris’s eyes clamped shut. Knots of frustration twisted his brow. By tomorrow morning, he told himself, she will understand my plan and we will be on the damn bus.
They drove on, Chris not knowing where to go or what to do.
Gradually the town fell away, the sky darkened and jungle grew beside the dirt road. The jeep strained uphill and emerged on a narrow, winding road. Below in the darkness he saw a shimmering black bay rimmed by palm trees and thatched huts. In the night sky, unobscured by daylight’s blue glare, unreachable stars twinkled down from distant galaxies.
The road descended and wound around gloomy lagoons and over a wooden bridge before stopping in a quite village.
“Barrio Beach,” the driver announced.
* * *
Two of the stories in the Sea Adventure Collection, Sixty-Four Days and Shark Tooth Rosary, are free on Amazon Kindle and the Kindle App from Oct 24 to 28, 2016. The Kindle App is free on all devices. You can grab both of these free stories on the link below.
Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels available online at all major book and eBook retailers. Read Malcolm Torres’s blog, which is full of free sea stories, nautical fiction, US Navy adventures and Coast Guard Thrillers.