A Cochero’s Christmas Eve
(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)
Basilio reached San Diego just as the Christmas Eve procession was passing through the streets. He had been delayed on the road for several hours because the cochero, having forgotten his cedula, was held up by the Civil Guard, had his memory jogged by a few blows from a rifle-butt, and afterwards was taken before the commandant. Now the carromata was again detained to let the procession pass, while the abused cochero took off his hat reverently and recited a paternoster to the first image that came along, which seemed to be that of a great saint. It was the figure of an old man with an exceptionally long beard, seated at the edge of a grave under a tree filled with all kinds of stuffed birds. A kalan with a clay jar, a mortar, and a kalikut for mashing buyo were his only utensils, as if to indicate that he lived on the border of the tomb and was doing his cooking there. This was the Methuselah of the religious iconography of the Philippines; his colleague and perhaps contemporary is called in Europe Santa Claus, and is still more smiling and agreeable.
In the time of the saints, thought the cochero,
surely there were no civil-guards, because one can’t live long on blows from rifle-butts.
Behind the great old man came the three Magian Kings on ponies that were capering about, especially that of the negro Melchior, which seemed to be about to trample its companions.
No, there couldn’t have been any civil-guards, decided the cochero, secretly envying those fortunate times,
because if there had been, that negro who is cutting up such capers beside those two Spaniards—Gaspar and Bathazar—
would have gone to jail.
Then, observing that the negro wore a crown and was a king, like the other two, the Spaniards, his thoughts naturally turned to the king of the Indians, and he sighed.
Do you know, sir, he asked Basilio respectfully,
if his right foot is loose yet?
Basilio had him repeat the question.
Whose right foot?
The King’s! whispered the cochero mysteriously.
Our King’s, the King of the Indians.