Excerpt from “Leche: A Novel”

ARTICLES - Leche

Brown vs Fair – “…Alone once again in waiting shed, littered with fliers for the upcoming election like “V is for Victory, so vote for Vi.” As in Vilma Santos, known for her dramatic roles, mestiza complexion, and TV commercials endorsing Eskinol skin-care products. Vince will deny it now, but he was once a Vilmanian, meaning he was part of the multitude of hopelessly devoted diehard true-blue-’til-death-do-us-part fans who didn’t live a single day without thanking the Lord for bringing into their rich or wretched existence Vilma santos. Aka Star for All Seasons. Expect to see a horde of Vilmanians camping outside theaters days before her movie premieres. To buy or the entire issue wherever she graces the cover of a magazine. To make her records go platinum in a week. To go on pilgrimages to Manila and stand outside the gate of her home on her birthday. To hold a novena when she’s up for an acting award. And to pore over their scrapbooks whenever they come down with Vilma-itis. Vince had such a scrapbook. Scribbled on its front comver, in his first-grade penmanship, was: Ate Vi & Me. In it were articles and pictures that he cut out from magazines with the precision of surgeon and pasted onto the pages. A piece of memorabilia that, because there was no room in his suitcase and box, his grandfather had asked him to leave behind, along with his collection of komiks, books, and Charlie Chaplin movie posters. He agreed, thinking he would return soon.

While, Vince, like half the country, was a bona fide Vilmanian; the other half were Noranian, like Jing and Alvin. As in Nora Aunor, Vilma’s showbiz rival for the past two decades, though the two superstars claim to be very good friends (“We’re as close as wall-to-wall carpeting.” – Vilma). Whereas Vilma is mestiza, which means she can enter through the front door of Pinoywood without getting stopped or mistaken for a maid, Nora, on the other hand, is petite, olive-skinned, barely speaks English, prefers to converse in Tagalog, and is likely to be mistaken for a nanny or a squatter. As a young girl in the province of Camarines Sur, Nora helped her poor parents by peddling water in train stations. Her impoverished existence came to an abrupt end when she entered the country’s amateur singing contest. She sang a Barbra Streisand chart-topper, “People,” and from then on, Nora (who also goes by “Ate Guy”) became one of the luckiest Filipeoples in the world. Except Nora wasn’t just lucky; she was talented. Her eyes could evoke a thousand and one emotions – she could tear your heart with one look – and her singing voice catapulted her to overnight stardom, breaking rules and records in Pinoywood, where whiteness was – and still is – used to judge one’s beauty and talent and determine the number of digits in contracts. Like Vilma, she too broke box-office records, in movies such as Atsay and Bona, where she usually played an underdog, the maid, the poor girl, the maide, the provincial, the maid, the pariah, the maid, the lesbian, the maid.

Gazing at the flier of his former idol Vilma, Vince listens to the voice of his childhood and remembers the endless Nora-Vilma catfight with his siblings. “So? Ate Vi dances better than Ate Guy,” Vince said, response to Alvin’s, “At least Ate Guy’s boyfriend isn’t fat.” “So what? Ate Vi is Darna,” Vince retorted. It was Vilma as Darna who made Vince believe that heroes on the screen were as real as the lights that made them. In the open-air cinema of San Vicente, underneath the stars and seated right beside his grandfather, Vince watched his childhood idol bring her komikbook heroine to life. When she wasn’t championing good over evil, Darna was Narda, a provincial lass who got her superhuman powers from a while stone that fell out of the sky. Inscribed on the stone was “Darna,” which she yelled out whenever she needed to fight her enemies, like the snake-coiffed Valentina, who turned people into stone. Vince read about them in the komiks and watched the film adaptations in the open-air cinema, as well as on TV. He’d even feigned illness in school (“Ma’am, I think I have tapeworms!”) just so he could go home and watch Isputnik Versus Darna on Sine Sa Siete (Movies on Channel Seven). And today, here she is, Vince’s childhood screen idol, running for a mayoral seat in the province of Lipa, Batangas, where, in the sixties, the Virgin Mary had appeared through a rain of roses. “Nora can’t dance to save her left foot, but she sings like an angel,” Jing told Vince. “But Vilma can’t sing for shit.” It was true. Vilma couldn’t tell the difference between sharps and flats, do from fa, mi from la, like ninety-nice percent of the movie stars in Pinoywood who insists on staging concerts in big arenas and releasing one album after another, relying on their tone-deaf fans to turn them gold or platinum. Alvin describe Vilma’s singing most accurately, “She sounds like Astrud Gilberto on morphine….” – R. Zamora Linmark, Excerpt from the novel, “Leche” (READ MORE)

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