Who’s the Daddy?

31 Mar

Klaus loves his girls. Not quite as much as he loves his beer, but he loves them all the same. So he likes to keep them on their toes.

“I am a Hamburger,” he says. “This I say with pride. To call myself a German, this is not so good. My name is Klaus. Like Santa Klaus.”

In the barren concrete of the guesthouse restaurant, looking out over the grey volcanic shore, he holds his court. “Is it nice to see Daddy?” he asks the girls. And, almost in the same breath, “You know they are not my daughters.”

Klaus has been coming to the Philippines for fifteen years. And frequenting Rose for almost as long.

“She is my girlfriend, not my wife,” he says. “Her name is Rose. Like the flowers they put on coffins when people are dead.”

Grey-bearded, bespectacled, Klaus has the Dennis Hopper gaunt intensity of the longterm alcoholic who takes all his calories in alcohol. He turns to the girls. “She is my girlfriend,” he repeat. “That means I can send your mother away any time I want. Obo?”

Obo,” the two girls chorus, the respectful Tagalog “yes” about the only native word which Papa has acquired over his sojourns. They speak no German. He wants them to master English first.

“She has put on weight,” he says.

“She’s curvy,” I say. The soft folds of Rose’s arms and belly under her black vest top are truly Rubensesque, the once-tiny features in her expanded face blowsy but still beautiful, her puffy lips luscious as a rose.

“Thankyou, ma’am,” says Rose, with odd formality. Klaus has been drinking since breakfast. Rose drinks sometimes. But not right now.

“She’s comfortable,” Klaus says, and laughs. “I pay their school fees,” he says. “I put them through school, even though they are not my daughters.”

Mariuszka, Rose’s first daughter, is beautiful, smart and savvy. She wants to be an architect. Anything, I guess, to escape her mother’s fate. She is studying hard at school. It is a good school.

“What do you do?” I ask Rose.

“She does nothing!” Klaus ejaculates. “She is my girlfriend. That is enough. I pay her rent. She doesn’t need to work.”

The dream of the non-working, fully compliant partner is easily achievable here, even for a man of Klaus’ means. His first wife was also Pilipina, but Klaus found the divorce expensive.

“Is it good to have your Daddy here?” he asks the girls. They nod and smile. Mariuszka’s face gives away nothing.

Klaus comes and goes between the docks of Hamburg, the city of Manila and the small towns of the Philippines. This is a family holiday. He has been in town for a month and a half.

“Have you been to Germany?” I ask Mariuszka.

She shakes her head.

“I don’t believe that they should come to Germany,” says Klaus. “Too many times people come from the Philippines to Germany, they forget who they are and they will not return home. I find this very sad.”

“Sit beside me, sweetheart,” he says to me, patting the seat and beckoning. “What? Are you scared?”

I demur, invent a trip to the bathroom. Z’s eyes are firmly on the telly, where the bottom half of Nicole Kidman’s face is emoting vigorously as the aboriginal child she loves is taken from her.

Our hostess joins us. Her name is Rosalie. She has known Klaus for the big end of fifteen years. She met him with her Austrian husband, dead now of diabetes for over two years, with whom she started the guesthouse where we stay.

“She poisoned him,” Klaus hisses. “She put poison in his beer.”

He grabs at Rosalie. “Sit beside me, sweetheart,” he says. “I need a Pilipina wife.”

Both Rose and Rosalie are familiar with his moves. Rosalie bats him off, rolling her eyes and swearing in German. Rose, who has the professional’s grasp on her boyfriend’s intoxication, takes the girls away to bed. I wonder what they talk about when they are alone, what they make of this strange man, Maria’s father.

Klaus is incoherent, now, speaking German. “I don’t speak German,” I say. “Ich kannst nicht Deutsch gesprachen.”

“You can speak German for one night only,” he says, in German, and laughs. I make another strategic trip to the bathroom.

I am trying to imagine these two Pilipina chicks, young, slim and feisty, double-dating around the island with their Teutonic beer-fiend beaux, a generation older than them.

Rosalie, it is clear, has the better half of the bargain. She has the guesthouse, a strip of party-coloured concrete along the grey sand and pebble beach. She has the wedding ring. She has a beautiful Eurasian daughter a couple of years older than her first, all-Pilipina grand-daughter.

And, hard-nosed businesswoman that she is, Rosalie is standing in the municipal elections, her unPhotoShopped visage flapping from tricycles and gazing down from walls across the island. The girl done good.

Eventually Klaus stumbles off, to recline on his “comfortable” girlfriend.

“How does Rose cope with him?” I ask Rosalie.

She shrugs. “He is not so bad. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a good man,” she says. “He sends money every month. He puts both the girls through school, though only the second girl is his. He doesn’t beat her. The first man, I think he was a Brit, like you, sent nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

It goes unsaid that, thanks to the weight gain, her increased age, and with not one, but two illegitimate children now to her name, Rose’s transactional capital is not what it was.

“But he plays the part of a monster,” I say, Western naivety oozing from my every pore. “It’s like being married to a monster.”

Rosalie laughs.

Rose reappears, grabs a couple of San Miguel from the bar, rolls her eyes expressively at Rosalie and apologetically at me.

“Rose!” Rosalie says, laughing. “You hear what this lady said? She said it’s like being married to a monster.”

“Ah,” says Rose. “But he die one day. He die!”

“But not before you get the ring on your finger?” I say.

They laugh. And Rose heads off to whatever night-time rapture awaits her in the room she shares with her young daughters and her ageing lover.

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