The Oasan family house was near the end of an eskinita. It was beside a makeshift basketball goal where neighborhood kids played street ball from morning up to the time when there was still enough light to see the ring. In front of their house was the only sari-sari store in the whole length of our narrow street. The sari-sari store was where we hanged out for refreshments after a “tatluhan” (three to a team) game of basketball. Towards the evening, when it was too dark to play “21” (foul shot and layup game) we would settle on the wooden benches in front of the store and pass the hat around to buy a flat bottle of Tanduay or Manila rum and a bottle of Coke to make our favorite “rum coke” cocktail. The organizer of these post basketball drink sessions was Peng, one of the Oasan brothers. We would drink without fear of being confronted by the police because the store was isolated, almost at the end of the eskinita. A stray police on his beat would be easily seen as he turned into the street and we would have ample time to disperse. An estero that flowed through the Trabajo Market up to Dos Castillas St. abbreviated our place into a nice and tight community, an urban cluster made up of mixed demographics.
I have never met their parents. I think the older Oasans died before the Japanese war. There were six of them, a sister and five brothers. They lived in a wooden house with a design that was typical of the peacetime period. The house had a concrete base but the upper section of the house was made of wooden boards. Windows were framed capiz shells that slid on grooves on the upper and lower portions of the sill. The ground floor had wrought iron bars as a security measure. It was a two door affair with both units at the ground floor being rented out. The second floor was where the four brothers stayed. We had the luck of having our house and all the other houses in the eskinita, untouched by the holocaust that the American liberation forces' strafing and bombing of the city of Manila created during the retreat of the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese, who were ordered to raze the buildings they occupied during the hurried troop pullout, as the Americans neared, did not do so in our Sampaloc neighborhood. My father told me that our house was occupied by a Japanese Officer who at the time of commandeering the house talked to him and in a very civilized manner asked permission to occupy the house. He did the courtesy of asking permission even when he knew that this was not necessary at all. I think we all owe it to the civility of this man that our neighborhood looked exactly the way it was at peacetime.
In this wooden house lived four brothers. Their married sister no longer stayed with them and a brother had employment outside of the city.
The eldest in the Oasan family was a lady medical doctor whose name I can no longer recall. She was married to an engineer whose practice was in Pangasinan, a town in north Luzon.
The eldest boy is George. George was already an adolescent during the Japanese time and was conscripted by the Philippine Army at the start of the war.. He was one of the survivors of the infamous Death March where the Japanese soldiers forced the prisoners of war to trek the distance from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. I presumed that he was severely mistreated, as all of them were, and that this wartime ordeal left him with dilapidated looks and lacerated emotions. He was an exaggerated caricature of someone who had experienced extreme hunger, exhaustion, deprivation and excruciating pain. He was a reticent fellow and had a pitiful demeanor that had all the indications of being shell-shocked.
After him was Felipe also known as Peng. Peng was the most colorful of the brothers and bandied himself as a self styled toughie. Many saw through his rough exterior and just tolerated his stance which at times was more comic than menacing. He had a resemblance to the actor Richard Widmark and was thrilled when anyone mentioned the similarity. Maybe he was just aping Widmark”s movie portrayals of being a tough detective or as a heavy in some films as he tried to intimidate some of the younger people in the neighborhood. Peng was also known for his being the resident Lothario who preyed on all of the household maids in the neighborhood. His predation turf was the balcony section of the Mercury Theater, a cinema house that was just at the corner of our eskinita.
Juancho was his twin brother. He did not stay in their house anymore but occasionally would pop up in the neighborhood to visit his brothers. He worked as pesticide sprayer in the agricultural fields in the province. The exposure to unsafe agricultural chemicals affected his health and died from an undiagnosed illness. There wasn’t much care or warning about the toxic effects of the agricultural chemicals during that time.
Nonching was the brightest among the brothers, he was majoring in chemistry at that time but I don’t recall him ever getting his degree. He invented a depilatory cream which my brother Pete became a willing guinea pig to test its efficacy. Dado, my other brother, swore that the reason for Pete’s hairless armpits was as a result of this experiment. He also had other inventions but most of them had dubious beneficial applications. One of his inventions was responsible for curtailing the proliferation of stray cats in the neighborhood. A concocted potion was injected on stray cats which caused the immediate annihilation of all nine lives of the unfortunate feline. Another application was the dipping of BB pellets in the concoction and using this as a long range toxic artillery. Chemical Ali, the notorious Iraqi chemical warfare expert, would have loved to recruit him in his pool of mad scientists.
The last one was Isidro. He worked as a mailman and everyday he would ride his trusty bike to deliver the mails all over the city. We called him El Manisero because of his peanut shaped head and his penchant for Latin music, notably Perez Prado’s band music. He loved to mimic Perez Prado’s guttural shout to punctuate every refrain…”aaahh, uh! A really funny guy he could create jokes out of any situation. He was a big fan of my brother Dado who was in DZMB then. Isidro had a short stint as a radio announcer in a relatively unknown station in Pangasinan. The signature sound he established during his board work was the distinctive Perez Prado bellow at the end of the refrains.
An extended family member was a dog named Baron. Baron imbibed the same beverage that his masters drank during the frequent drinking bashes that they had at home. Baron got drunk ahead of his drinking masters. When inebriated Baron would seem like he had a heavy leaden head and would drag this on the floor to all corners in the room. When it seemed like he found a comfortable nook he would curl up and plop his deadweight at this favorite corner. Despite what seemed an effort to search for a comfortable site he would end up in the same spot every time after making the rounds of all four corners of the room. It was a droll but pathetic sight.
These characters have their uniqueness, an inimitability that ranges from the charming to the sordid. They would be rich material for character development in fiction. Maria Cristina of my youth was full of these incredible denizens with quasi aboriginal qualities native to an isolated neighborhood in the middle of an urban environment.