He talked easily to the friar. He knew that he freely could talk to him without being judged. He got invited to lunch soon after the ship docked at Bongao…three or four hours was all the time he had while the crew unloaded and took on cargo…and he didn’t waste time by looking around. He needed to get a few things from the market. There he met the French-Canadian Oblate, though at the time he didn’t know an Oblate from a Jesuit. The friar lived next to the Notre Dame of Bongao and zealously taught Muslim students and in so doing facilitated the growth of Islam. He was a very busy friar, teaching and planning his lessons, and furthering his mission of promoting literacy throughout the archipelago. He would be a good source for Don and would certainly know how safe the islands were.
You couldn’t help but be impressed by the friar. He was rotund and obviously enjoyed life. Don sat through a funny lunch filled with quips about people from Canada who “thought a warmer climate would lead to laziness.” The poor people the friar served were far from lazy and were great lovers of the sea. That was where most of them lived and died. And they talked about how the sea could be very rough at times. But the conversation began and ended warmly, and the friar began with, “You have to forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The first time he said it Don didn’t understand what he meant. The second time, he said, “You mean the Moros.” Don had planned to bring the subject up but hadn’t expected an opening so soon. When the food arrived the friar said, “There’s no need to be afraid. But fear is sometimes useful.”
The friar asked Don about himself and Don told him about the Peace Corps.
The friar said, “Ah, the Peace Corps.”
Don asked, “Is there something wrong with the Peace Corps?”
The friar said, “No, no, no. There used to be one here. A beautiful woman. And if you ask me, a little too beautiful for here, and that’s with the acknowledgement that women here are the most beautiful in world. Do I surprise you?”
“No, no, no.”
They became instant friends. The house was large and built to Western specs. The friar’s manners and manner were also Western, and he also spoke perfect English. Perfect English now seemed foreign to Don, though he appreciated hearing English without the formality that he had grown used to and English mixed with the vernacular, whatever that might be. There were over eighty-seven different dialects. So Don felt very much at ease.
He saw a very human friar. This surprised him. The friar said, when Don asked, “I love food. I eat too much. Food and tropical heat don’t mix. I should’ve learned that a long time ago.”
They talked about many things. The lunch took up all the time Don had: he particularly liked the things made from sweet and sticky rice. Some of the time Don talked business and asked about the beautiful volunteer who the friar thought was too beautiful for her own good: Don got around to his objection to placing white women in Sitangkia. Some of the time he spent talking about his life in Zamboanga and how he liked the Spanish atmosphere, the smell of the flowers in the plaza, and even the smell of copra as it aged in warehouses near the harbor. Don, explaining his situation, said, “I have a little problem. Something concerning a Filipina I like. I think the best thing is to forget her.” Don was trying to minimize his feelings, explaining as few of the details as possible, but the friar wasn’t buying it, but he didn’t push or pry. And with the same intensity as when he ached for Lilly and wanted sex with her, there came the idea that he wouldn’t throw her aside, so, suddenly, from his conversation with the friar, Don knew what he had to do, and there came to him deep and true feelings for Lilly and the idea that he would marry her, though he knew she would have to be willing to give him a second chance.
The friar’s answer was simply, “Well, I can see that was intense. Like you’d been lost at sea and you found the North Star.” Then in a normal voice, “Basug, ca ba? Are you satisfied?”
Don thought about his bedroom where he had taken Lilly. She had seemed comfortable there. He remembered her face, and the frightened look she had afterwards, right after the sex, the rape, still in quiet shock (with silent rage, perhaps) and his going out of his way to apologize. She looked so beautiful. He saw how he hurt her and how beautiful she was. In the friar’s company he saw it as if it had just happened.
The friar said, “I don’t need to know what this was all about. It’s your business. And I think it should remain that. But I assume it’s up to her.”
Don connected with the friar in a way that amazed him. He had felt embarrassed and now the embarrassment was gone. He said, “I hurt her.” It wasn’t pretty. The idea hurt him, and there wasn’t anything he could do about, and it had occurred to him before that he had to fix it, but now things had changed, changed so much, that he knew he had to do more than that.
The friar nodded.
Don asked, “Can I tell you something?
“You don’t have to.”