Tumbas Manipis: A story
by John A. Bello
THE young man was dumb founded at how he ended up inside the Samurai Health Temple. He was not really inebriated that he would not know what he got into. Just after the drinking session, tumbas manipis, they called it, with his fellow teachers in the university, his feet, seemingly wanting to discover terra incognito, dragged him to this place.
When he reached the narrow entrance of the Samurai Health Temple, known for its young masseuses with well-practiced hands, he was completely bewitched on one thing he wanted to explore for himself. He mounted the wooden creaking stairs. At the top of what seemed to be a waiting room, he grew hesitant when he sighted the row of women seated by the wall like merchandise on display. A wave of unease and irritation suddenly engulfed him. He would have turned around, climbed down the stairs, and stepped out for fresh air when he was approached by someone who had detached from the figures who were gradually stirring to life in their seats. The woman held his hand and led him to the chubby, middle-aged woman, munching something, seated at a nearby table to the left of the anteroom. The woman sat up upon their approach.
“Mommy, I have a customer,” the young woman beside him said.
How he was able to speak to the middle-aged woman, fished out his wallet to pay for the service, and was guided to a darkened room by this woman who told him to wait while she got her things from the other room, seemed all like a dream.
The young man thought it could have been the effect of San Mig he had with his beer buddies in that watering hole.
When the woman returned, he was still seated at the edge of the bed. His light green polo shirt still tucked in his jeans and with his black leather shoes on.
“Your first time here?” asked the woman, smiling.
She was dressed like an attending nurse, in white dress minus the cap, and in her hands a small imitation leather bag. When she led him to this room, he felt the warmth of her palm on his elbow and the balm effect of her singsong voice, “this way, sir, please this way.” His tension, just building up a while ago, gradually melted.
“Please lie down, relax and take off your clothes, sir,” the woman told her, a disarming smile playing on her lips. “I will have to start now to massage your whole body.” She was holding a small plastic bottle.
The young man looked at her and even with the pale bluish light awash inside the room, he could see that the woman was good-looking and shapely in figure. A vague feeling of sadness enveloped him, and he shook his head.
“What’s your name?” the young man, now lying face down on the soft bed, asked as she gently massaged the back of his neck.
“I’m Vina. How about you?”
He was taken aback and found himself at a loss for an answer to a simple question. Should he tell her he is Carlos Magsino, a university professor, 24 years old, and still single?
“Don’t worry,” he heard her say, “You could use any name you like. We are used to that here.”
IT WAS the first time for Carlos to venture inside a massage parlor. Outside the university, whenever he and his fellow teachers got together for their usual tumbas manipis—a ritual involving three to five bottles of San Mig every other day after classes—their talk would inevitably turn to the mysterious bond that perpetually entangles man and woman.
During one such session, Resty, probably owing to more than his usual fill of San Mig, said that Carlos was sexually repressed, or worse, frigid.
“He just needs a little sexploration at night,” said Ben, who winked at Niko.
“It would be right for you, Carlos, baby, to be initiated at Samurai,” Niko said, and dug into the sizzling sisig na pusit.
“You are ganging up on me again, you bunch of sybarites,” Carlos said, with a smile.
“We only live once, bro,” said Resty, already red-faced, grinning devilishly.
Carlos was not fully sold to what he considered the carefree lifestyle of his buddies, who like him, were also still solo operators chasing their own restless shadows outside their teaching jobs in the university. Now, however, it seemed to Carlos that there was some truth to what his beer mates were saying. It would not indeed be normal for him to have no sexcapades while others were ordinarily doing them with guts and gusto. Since college he had always been absorbed with his books. Of course, he had romantic liaisons in his student days, first with Edna, then with Mikaela. But the relationships, which were almost platonic, did not last long. Both must have sensed that Carlos had other priorities, and so each one left him. Carlos was even surprised that he did not feel anything at all about their unceremonious exit from his life.
CARLOS was then in second year high school when his mother arrived home with a teenage girl from the province. The girl was about 16 years old, fair-complexioned, with her shiny black hair cascading down her shoulders, and with a general appearance that could only be described as lovely.
“This is your Nang Lita,” Carlos’ mother introduced the girl to him and his younger brother, Jake, and Riza, their younger sister. “She will be your companion here at home whenever we are on travel.”
Carlos’ parents were engaged in “baratillo sale.” Wherever there was a fiesta or market day, off they would go and pitch some tent and display their merchandise of various men and women’s apparel and footwear accompanied by three salesladies and two male helpers. Carlos, Jake and Riza who were all enrolled in school, were left at home sometimes for days and their mother had to find a housekeeper to keep them company and attend to their needs.
Nang Lita had become their reliable companion at home. She cooked, did the laundry, and kept every nook and cranny of the house almost spotlessly clean. One afternoon, Jake came home with a limp from his usual romp in school. Nang Lita told him to lie down as she rubbed the sore leg with Omega Pain Killer.
If there were no classes, Carlos would stay in his room and, as was his habit, read komiks. Nang Lita would also come in and read with him. While he was reading, he would be tempted to steal glances at her shapely creamy legs which she seemed to be showing off to him as she just stretched nonchalantly her whole body on the shiny floor near his bed with seemingly no care in the world. And he was wondering why Nang Lita was frequently inside his room and Carlos would invariably feel tense and uneasy, detracting from his reading.
One afternoon, they were dismissed early by their Science teacher. Jake and Riza who were both in the elementary were still in school. Carlos, upon reaching home, went to his parents’ bedroom in search of something. As he groped around in the gloom, he accidentally touched a piece of plywood, which came off and fell on the floor. As he looked at the spot covered by the loose piece of plywood, his eyes penetrated into the bathroom below. To his utter shock, Nang Lita was there, in all her naked glory with her eyes closed as she slowly and gracefully poured water using a tabo from a big pail while soaping every part of her alabaster body. For a few chest-thumping minutes he was transfixed, his throat gone dry. It was the first time that Carlos experienced such a mesmerizing sight and since then it would be his secret viewing delight whenever Nang Lita would take a bath. His evenings before he slept in his bed took on various colors of youthful fantasies and dreams that would transport him to unspeakable ecstasy.
Nang Lita did not stay long with them. Carlos came home one afternoon, hearing his mother angrily shouting at her.
“Flirt! Snake! Pack up your things and get out!”
While she was putting her belongings into her bag, tears kept falling down Nang Lita’s cheeks. Carlos wanted to ask her many questions but he was tongue-tied. Before she left, she pulled him to her chest and hugged him tightly.
It would be years before Carlos knew the meaning behind Nang Lita’s brief stay at their house. His mother had stumbled into his father in a very compromising scene with Nang Lita that left little doubt in his mother’s mind that they were doing mysterious things behind her back. His father owned up to his misdeed and it almost ruined their family.
“ARE you asleep?” the voice of the woman startled Carlos. “I’m already done here at your back, please turn so that I can massage your front body.”
Then, at this point, feeling deliciously relaxed from the tranquillizing effects of the rubdown, he recalled what his comrades during tumbas manipis encounters had told him that “extra service” could easily be had from this place for the right sum and proper agreement and so, he braced himself for the right moment to strike a deal. It would be now, he told himself, determined to pursue this adventure to its logical conclusion.
When Carlos turned and faced the woman, their eyes momentarily locked and both immediately looked away, as if suddenly struck by something they could not right away figure out. Carlos felt the strange creeping sensation of familiarity in the woman’s eyes.
“What’s your name again?” Carlos asked.
“Have I not told you already that I’m V-vina?” said the woman who put some rubbing alcohol in her palm and continued massaging him. “You’re unfair,” she added, smiling. “You’re not telling me your name . . . even just your alias,” and she laughed softly.
“A, eh, I’m Mike, M-mike Reyes!” was the name that came out from Carlos’ lips. But he saw the unmistakable disbelief and disappointment in the woman’s face.
Now the woman’s deft palms and fingers moved faster but slightly shook and faltered as they continued to rub down and press into the muscles and flesh of the young man’s body; the young man, on the other hand, was beginning to sense a haunting eerie feeling of both disorientation and déjà vu. Carlos just forgot about what he was determined to do in this adventure.
When he left, the woman immediately went to her room, and peeped outside the window.
“Hoy, Ate Vina, who are you looking at there? Is he handsome? Rich?”
The woman surreptitiously wiped tears from her eyes before she faced her companion. “No, Rea, just a friend from somewhere who had found his way here.”
Outside, on his way home aboard a taxicab, Carlos felt like a bludgeon hitting him in the guts the sudden realization of what happened to him across the years with the woman at the Samurai Health Temple.