One Saturday, before the matinee performance, they went to their favorite Cantonese restaurant on Mabini Street. It was Alfred’s idea after he presented them with a puppy, a surprise he had been thinking about for months. This led them to having a conversation at the restaurant about dogs, how dogs were generally treated differently in the Philippines than in America, and then to have Alfred caution them about speaking in generalities and stereotyping people. Alfred said he grew up with dogs; his family always had them. Ted looked at him in disbelief. Susan reacted with, “Ted don’t stare.” A young Chinese woman in a long sleek dress with a short slit up one leg came out with their meals on a tray. Alfred said to them, “She’s come straight from China. She’s neither proficient in English or Tagalong.” She was friendly and polite, over doing it to compensate for her language deficiency, overcompensating for it. She made doubly sure everyone was happy with her. Ted and Susan asked for spoons. Alfred was perfectly happy to eat with chopsticks. The spoons were readily available. And they followed Alfred’s lead, as he shoveled in his rice. The fried rice was quite nice.
Ted found an opportunity to tell Alfred what his plans were for the dungeons. It came after a long conversation about dogs, during which they managed to avoid a major faux pas. In other words, half way through what was to have been a leisurely lunch Ted metaphorically jumped off a cliff.
Susan felt like screaming. There was nothing else she felt like doing; her relaxing afternoon ruined. Ted ruined it for her. She was sick, just sick. She could choke him. And it was as if Susan hadn’t known, the one person who should’ve, that her husband was deeply involved with Communists. Out of her frustration, she attacked him and, as though Alfred wasn’t there, or they weren’t in a public place, used language that she normally wouldn’t have. She said, “You’re fucking resigning tomorrow. I’ll go with you, and you’ll tell them anything to get out of teaching there.” Tomorrow was Sunday. Both men stared at her. Alfred said nothing, as Ted tried to calm her down.
When Ted next saw Alfred, after he had taken Susan home, he managed a twisted smile. His lips quivered a little. Ted said, “She’s okay now.”
Alfred, standing outside the theater, said in a calm voice, “Maybe you should listen to her.” Ted said, “We made up, and she understands that I teach at a university and not a grammar school.” Then he hit Alfred up again for his ideas. Alfred said, “Maybe you should be listening to your wife.” And then, with hardly a pause, he said, “What’s the problem with the main stage? Why use the dungeons?” Ted became irritated. He said, “You don’t get it. You’re not going to help me.”
Alfred responded with a narrative and a tour of the dungeons. “Hindi Aco Patay. Pack the audience in here and let them feel like prisoners. Now he has high hopes for his country. It hasn’t been long since Dewey sailed into the bay. And it isn’t long before he knows we aren’t going get our Independence. After we’re misled, something you have to admit. We have our own Declaration of Independence, a good document, not unlike the one America has. Some of the natives begin to resist. Insurrection, killing. Americans against Filipinos. They shoot some and catch some and bring some of them here. They don’t know where they’re being taken. They don’t know if they’re going to get out alive. In here they have lost all hope. There are so many down here that they can’t breathe and they can’t sleep. Have very little to eat, and it’s damp, very damp, and when the water is let in, many of them drown. There’s no latrine. He’s brought here, and he won’t get out. They drag him without mercy through various streets in chains, and here they expect him to die. He refuses to die, not in this hole. They ask, “What is it like?” He tells them, “It’s wet and dark.” They say, “No, no, tell us what it’s really like.” He gives them a full description. Tells them there’s no latrine. But then someone says, ‘It has to be worse than that. The puss and the shit! Men dying all around you, and….’ And having told the truth, which is horrible enough, someone has a different idea, a conflicting one. About how to frame the truth. About how to treat a dark, dank dungeon and sugarcoat it. Hey, how about letting some sunlight in? Those guys could use some sunshine. Yeah, as much as possible, let the sun in, and let it rise; let it shine. Flood a whole friggin wall with white light and the surrounding walls with…how about red? From the light of day into the semi-darkness of the cell comes a drunken American soldier, with something bulging out of his back pocket. He reaches for it. Everyone thinks it’s gun, but low and behold, it’s an empty beer bottle, which he throws at the light or the sun on the wall. Then everyone, from the audience to the prisoners, watch as the sun immediately sets to the sound of gunfire and the explosions of bombs.” Alfred had even come up with a title for the damn thing, something borrowed: he called it Hindi Aco Patay, which means “I’m not dead yet.”
Having been asked, Alfred pitched his ideas to Ted and said he had a playwright who could flesh it out. Ted told him that he’d have to think about it and would get back to him later.