So here he was sitting on a log in his backyard because he was retired. At forty-seven years of age, not bad.
He no longer occupied the office of Justice of the Peace. He was no longer Judge Molina. He was no longer Justice of the Peace Molina. He was not even Justice Molina. He was Just Molina.
He’d awakened at seven o’clock this morning and remembered he’d been officially retired as of five p.m. the previous day. He’d lain back in bed and gone back to sleep. The next time he was up, it was ten a.m.
His parents (long deceased) had named him Justiniano Molina. So he swung between Osting and Nano, childhood nicknames he hated and rejected. In law school, he developed an aversion to “Justiniano” when a professor with a stutter could not say it right, and the failed effort became a classroom joke to be repeated again and again by wiseasses. Friends fixed the problem one Pub Night by dubbing him “Just Molina” (“Justin” was just too sissy). They toasted his new name with bottles of San Miguel beer. They predicted that this moniker would make him a fair-minded judge someday, a just one.
The unforgiving Philippine sun beat down on his scalp. He should have worn a hat. But it was too late now because he was nicely settled on his log, whittled flat on top for comfort by his hired hand, Isagani. Chocks of wood fit nicely beneath the log to give it stability. It was a good log for a retiree to sit on all day with a hat to stave off the punishing sun.
Two puppies, about three months old, came out of the nearby dog shelter to gnaw at his toes. The first one was Coco, mostly brown and pudgy. The second one was Salty, bristly white with premature whiskers sticking out of his snout in all directions. They were litter-mates from different fathers. Coco looked like the neighbor’s big brown dog, and Salty was a baby version of a mangy white thing that had made a brief appearance during their mother’s fertile period.
He sat in the backyard of his two-story three-bedroom house that came with a hobby farm he’d purchased at the edge of a barrio early in his tenure as a judge. Originally of beautiful wooden parts, his house had developed termite rot of late and had to be re-done all in cement by a team of carpenters. He blamed this predicament on greedy loggers who had robbed the Philippines of its forests, and greedy termites that took care of what wood there was left. Wooden houses were an endangered species in the land that he loved.
To add insult to injury, one of the carpenters contracted to work on his house had eloped with his only housemaid two weeks ago right after the renovations. Now he faced his retirement without even a maid in the house.
The dog shelter was a wide sheet of galvanized iron roofing propped up by bamboo poles in the backyard. Both his house and the dog house were at a front corner of his coconut plantation, fourteen hectares of copra-yielding land fenced-in with wire-mesh and managed by his man Isagani who lived in a hut toward the rear end of the property.
By default, Isagani’s wife now looked after the judge, a confirmed bachelor without a maid. The caretaker’s wife came over to cook his meals, clean up his mess and do his laundry, delegating two older girls from her brood of four to mind the chores at home. It was a temporary situation to end as soon as a suitable maid was found for Molina.
A cacophony of barking shattered the peace. Dogs were going amuck around the shed, Giselle the bitch, her three grown-up offspring and the two pups. They streamed toward the side-gate that gave him easy access to the outside when he preferred not to go through the main entrance up front.
A wiry man under a wide-brimmed hemp hat was coming down the path outside in a hurry. It was Bitoy, the official garbage collector for the barrio of which the judge’s property was nominally a part.
“Judge Molina! Judge Molina!” Bitoy cried above the ruckus of the dogs.
“Just Molina,” Molina corrected though he doubted Bitoy could hear him above the din. The judge left his comfortable spot to see what was so urgent.
Bitoy stood huffing and puffing at the gate to await Molina taking his time in his usual calm and collected way. Justice, it seemed, deserved the full measure of time.
When they were finally facing each other on opposite sides of the gate, the retired judge peered through the wire mesh. He could see that the garbage collector had his hands oddly extended, palms up.
Then it all became clear.
On Bitoy’s palms was a banana leaf displaying a freshly cut penis.
“Susmaryosep!” Molina cried out, blaspheming thrice.
Molina contacted his friend, Dr. Paco Lacorte, by landline.
They spoke in Filipino English, an admixture of tribal dialect and English, the legacy of teachers brought in by the Americans in 1901 to replace Spanish as the medium of instruction in Filipino schools. Having won the Spanish-American War, the new occupiers transformed the Spanish colony into a protectorate of the United States, and therefore English became the accepted way the locals communicated. Even after their Independence, this lingua franca among the multi-tribal Filipinos prevailed.
“Doc, I need you here quickly,” Molina told his friend over the telephone. “I have a human organ in my fridge.”
“A human organ?” Dr. Lacorte repeated, disbelieving.
“A male sex organ freshly cut.”
“No kidding. Is this an early April Fool’s joke?” It was late March. Dr. Lacorte started to laugh. They were old high school buddies, and pulling pranks on each other was something they’d done before.
“A penis in my fridge is no joking matter.” Molina’s serious tone stopped the doctor in mid giggle.
“Freshly cut, you say,” Dr. Lacorte said. “That sounds serious. Who’s the owner?”
“I don’t know. Bitoy the trash man brought it to me. He found it after he left his garbage cart by the side of the road to grab a loaded trashcan from someone’s yard, an old woman who pays for the extra service. There were a number of cars that passed by. He thinks it came from one of the cars. Someone tossed it into his cart.”
“Okay, this sounds like an emergency. Keep the penis in your fridge. I’m coming to examine its condition. We might have to ask the authorities to issue a city-wide alert for someone missing his organ.”
“If he’s still alive.”
“Let’s pray he is.”
“Amen to that.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)