When they last saw Don, Susan asked, “Where are they (the Peace Corps) sending you?”
“I don’t know. I’m floating around now, helping out where I can. Most recently I was up in Aparri (at the tip of Luzon). They don’t want me to get too attached to one place I guess.
Later they sent Don to Zamboanga on Mindanao; and it looked as if he would stay there for a while. He was to establish something but was put off by the idea of being stuck with an office. The Moros were threatening again, with crossed swords, so it was hard to know if a particular place was safe. He had to visit each volunteer and use his judgement as to whether they should be pulled out or not. He had been to Zamboanga many times as a volunteer when he had been assigned to Davao as a science teacher. That was for recreation. This time it became messier. He never intended to get involved with a Philippine woman romantically. The casual, quick tryst with a prostitute…not something he would do in a city where he knew anyone…was far from being out of the question. So he made it a policy to keep his distance from Filipinas by shutting down his libido.
The next time Ted heard from him he was in trouble.
Don said, “You have to be smart. But who’s kidding who here. I wasn’t smart enough. Don’t criticize when you haven’t been there. You’re not single so you don’t know how hard it was. The trouble was: this was not in the manual. Volunteers, in my case staff, are left out there alone and don’t see how they’re vulnerable.”
“You obviously handled it before. For two years and you extended.”
“Yeah, I made it, but this time…I don’t know what happened. Sex was the culprit. To understand you’ve got to do your duty as a priest for while.”
“Was it that bad?”
“Worse. Ask me.”
Don couldn’t tell Ted what he’d done. He couldn’t tell anyone connected with the Peace Corps, or at least until he fixed it. Don trusted no one, and he stayed away from Manila as much as he could. He came in only when he had to. And on one of those trips he said to Ted, “Now I know what hell is like. All because I couldn’t stop. What did St. Paul say about that?”
Ted looked at Don and asked, “Are you in that much trouble?”
Don responded with a simple “yes.”
If Ted had known St. Paul, he would’ve grasped the significance of what Don said. In fact, Don’s reference to St. Paul and his letters in the Bible revealed his heart and soul. But that hardly meant that he was perfect. It showed more that he was human. The trouble was, from a Christian perspective, and then the Peace Corps, and then to the Filipino, he had broken the law. It was still a secret and hopefully would remain one; but there was the young woman’s family…both parents and siblings, with a tradition totally different from his, a concept of shame and retribution that often continued for generations, and with people running amuck and feuding violently, ready to settle scores with knives and guns or with whatever it took. The woman and he had met innocently enough. It was a chance encounter at a patio bar and restaurant connected to a hotel. You could sit there at a table, order a meal, and stick a toe in the Sulu Sea.
The fact that she had gone there without a chaperon shouldn’t have given Don a license for his conduct. They shouldn’t have had a good time together, or why shouldn’t they have? Yes, she was a Filipina, and he was an American with the Peace Corps. That was how he got to the edge of a cliff, but explain how he fell off of it.
There was no one more frightened than Don. He was jolly and talkative and well mannered. He was a Caucasian, and looked wealthy. He told her he frequently ate there, which only reinforced her image of him. Therefore she could’ve been forgiven for taking him for an American businessman, much like the fisherman from Texas that Ted met at the American Embassy (who incredibly based himself out of Basilian, an island Don could almost see from there). The first question that came to Don was “what is she doing here alone.” She could’ve been staying at the hotel and was one of those modern women who occasionally out of necessity travel alone. He would then impress her less then. Anywho, he invited her to join him. That was how it all began.
He asked her first thing, as if he had forgotten he was in the Philippines, “If you were going to have dinner here and had a choice, would you prefer having it with me or alone?” The young woman without hesitation said, “With you.” Don should’ve backed off right then. “The food here is good. Your choice, on me.”
During a torchlight dinner they threw coins in the water so that they could watch boys dive for them. They were warming up to each other, or were already warm, and he wanted sex so badly that he couldn’t see straight. Don didn’t have a room in the hotel (he then lived there in Zamboanga) but did she have one? He listened to her intently in an attempt to find out. Very little of what was said, however, gave him a clue. There was a lot about the view of the sea, the reflection of the sunset and a prau here and there with brightly colored sails, reds and blues: all of this enhanced the mood. And when at the end of the meal he asked her for an opinion she said, “I wanted to meet someone like you, but my mother always warned me against it.” Don knew then. His head bobbed, he showed this great smile, and he almost fell out of his chair.
“I don’t know your name. I should’ve asked for your name first thing and we should’ve introduced ourselves. Shall we go for a little stroll, in the moonlight, toward the fort?” Getting up out of the chair he almost knocked it over, the closest he came to feeling clumsy. But it would take more time for much more to happen. He said, “I’m not good at this. It’s this game we’re playing. I hate it. I feel it’s not honest. And it’s too direct for you. Forget it. This won’t work. Not in a million years. Your culture calls for one thing. Mine? Well, mine calls for us to fuck. Forgive me. Please forgive me. I’m shocked by my own crudeness. You don’t understand me, do you? You need to scram. No hard feelings, okay?” From there, they walked to the city plaza and sat on an iron bench. They couldn’t get close there, so he said, “You’re still here. When I said what I said I a while ago I thought that would mean adios. You should’ve left me. But I see you haven’t. I’ll show you where I live. Yes, I live near here. And I come down here often.” She still didn’t run away. Now whenever he went to the plaza he looked for her knowing she knew he frequently went there. Other times she met him for dinner, and under torchlight, they’d eat, eat and put up with boys who treaded water while begging for coins. “Sorry boys, no more coins. You’re wrong. I’m not loaded,” and Don thought, “Against all odds, this may, this may work out with her.”