cat and bonsai

The genius of the humorist allows him to move from the spiritual to the mundane with ease. If one moment Renato Madrid forces us to contemplate our mortality with his black humor, he rewards us the next with pages of visual fun.

In “DevilWings,” the novelist Madrid opens the book with images of six stray cats wangling their way into the apostolic nuncio’s house, “staging occasional forays into unfriendly neighbourhood of huge, vicious dogs, receiving well-placed kicks that landed the poor animals on top of mantelpieces, fireplaces and dusty cupboards.”

At the end of the book, you see the same feline gang demanding entrance to the nuncio’s office by scraping at the door amid hair-raising cries. Once inside, the irrepressible animals started their customary cat-ballet, milling about the nuncio’s feet with cries of protest. Having made their presence felt, the irreverent cats took turns using the head of a plaster bust of Pope Pius XII as stepping stone toward a tall grandfather’s clock before jumping and skittering toward an open window as if their tails were on fire.

It’s “Tom and Jerry” without the mouse inside the Nunziatura Apostolica in Old Manila.

In his second novel, “Mass for the Death of an Enemy,” Renato Madrid further indulges our appetite for the visually comical in the scene where the heroine Aurelia struggles against a prospective rapist, a fight that involved a lot of screaming.

“The man had her pinned with both arms to the ground while he sat astride her belly and was already into some horrid imitation of a horseman in full gallop which she had absolutely no way of slowing or stopping.” Then just as the man was sure of success, a cow came from God knows where to her rescue and flung the assailant against the wall.  Or that’s how it looked like to me.

The huge beast capped its pastoral ministry by licking the woman’s face. “She was being administered to by a cow. A cow had been her salvation!” Madrid wrote. Holy cow! Of course one has to read the novel to appreciate how the scene has all the ingredients of a Joey de Leon-Rene Requiestas classic.

Or is it all symbolism? Like it’s amusing how Renato Madrid used one image, bonsai, to symbolize both beauty and stunted growth, and who knows what else, in one and the same book. The burned-out out apostolic nuncio in “DevilWings” “longed for the simplicity of the catechism now! Those comfortable interrelations of divine and human data, which were all that one really remembered once the fury of theological disquisition was over. Sum and substance. Reduction to the barest essentials. Taken in at a glance…. almost the very definition of bonsai.  The Catholic Faith as bonsai? Renato Madrid gets away with it.

In another scene from the same book, the nuncio receives from a promdi parishioner a naughty gift in the form of a bonsai papaya that resembles a naked woman’s body, complete with boobs, well-chiselled thighs, and all the curves. The nuncio, beaming with the purest pleasure and trembling, asked the gift-bearer:

“Is this a joke?”

“No. It’s a papaya.”

“I know. But they’re worthless.”

“On the contrary. They’re the best.”

(SUN.STAR CEBU, AUG. 20, 2010)