LOLA: Oh yes. Times were tough.
With all her might, Lola gets up from the bed, tosses away the covers and stands.
Imagine it: It was just after Liberation. I was only 16 years old. At night, I had to work at SNAFU. It was a bar which catered to American GIs stationed in Manila who needed R & R.
Lola puts a flower in her hair. She is suddenly young again. She begins to sing:
I don’t go out late.
Nowhere to go.
I’m home about 8, just me and my radio.
Ain’t misbehavin’ Just saving my love for you.
SNAFU bar. American soldiers throw flowers at her. She bows. She begins to wipe the bar, serving drinks.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Get me a beer will you? Hey, Rufina! You sounded like an angel tonight. Listen: My pals and I are strolling along Dewey Boulevard. Wanna tag along, gorgeous?
LOLA: But there was no time for socializing.
The bar starts to close down.
VOICES IN THE BAR: Goodnight. See ya later. Suit yourself. Remember to turn off the lights, Rufina.
LOLA: Every night I would go to the back of the bar to find leftovers for my six brothers and sisters and my mom.
Lola goes to the back alley of the restaurant. She gets scared by the sound of an alley cat. She flinches. She crosses herself and breathes a sigh of relief.
LOLA: There they were. All of the food at SNAFU was supplied by nearby American army camps. The cans of food from the Americans had no labels and all came in green tins. I bring home all the empty cans of spam, corned beef and ketchup I could find.
She places food in front of her family.
There was always food in the edges.
VOICES OF HER BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Salamat, Ate. Thank you ha? Thanks Ate! It tastes so good.
She watches them eat.
LOLA: There wasn’t much but they had a few bites.
She tries to go to sleep but her tummy rumbles. She rubs her tummy and sighs. She goes to sleep. Lights change. She gets back up.
During the day, I had to go to Tayabas High School.
Lola gets ready for school. She does her bed, she puts her backpack on and begins walking through busy Manila streets. Lola rushes into her classroom, stands with her hands in choir position. She sings:
I once was lost but now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see.
Lola’s tummy rumbles again and she rubs it.
One day, the wife of my teacher, Mrs. Boyle, approached me with a desperate request.
MRS. BOYLE: Oh! Rufina Cortez? I am coming to you with a bit of a desperate request. It seems that Delores, my maid has decided to run off with Jesus, the dog walker. I haven’t had a decent meal in three days. I understand your father passed away, is that correct? I imagine things are quite tight in your household, what, with your mother and all those mouths to feed. So I am wondering: Are you by any chance free to come by the house to cook? As in for tomorrow? Or even tonight? I have to admit, with a streak of shame, that in my many years here, I am just not able to get accustomed to this heat. And even though I would love to cook for myself, I’m afraid I will melt right down into a puddle. But I promise you, I’d only need you to cook the three meals then you can skidaddle to wherever you need to go. You can even do your homework in the living room if you so wish. Is it a deal?
Mrs. Boyle holds out her hand.
LOLA: Holding out her hand. Deal! Kawawanaman si Mrs. Boyle. It wasn’t her choice for her husband to teach English in Manila. They were the only family I knew who had a real ice box. What Mrs. Boyle did not know was that I would come in extra early for lunch. I would sneak into the kitchen. And I would cut a slice off the bottom of the steak for my family.
Lola sneaks into the kitchen. She opens the fridge and gets the steak. She cuts a lateral slice off the bottom of the steak. She places it back in the fridge. Mrs. Boyle suddenly enters.
MRS. BOYLE: Rufina! Pause. You must be reading my mind. I’m actually in the mood for steak tonight. But before you start marinating the steak, could I trouble you to make a batch of your pianono? We’re having tea with a very important war hero tonight. His name is Manuel Sanchez. I trust you know of him?
LOLA: Of course I knew of him. Everyone had heard the story.