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“Clockwork Bayani” © 2022 by Gianne Encarnacion


There was a small store in Manila, inside the walls of Intramuros, accessible to the wealthy and powerful, between a clothing store and a jewelry store. Children in clean crisp clothes, usually with parents or carers, stood before the store window, staring at la muñeca and el muñeco on the shelves: dolls made with the copper from the mines of the country as well as the rest of the world; the best clockwork gears from Switzerland, sometimes from Spain and France; the best clothes from London and Paris, as well as Laguna and Pampanga. In the Filipinas, they were called manika, both by the rich and powerful, as well as the poor and aspiring.

They were the toys of the rich and upwardly mobile. Each bahay na bato in Intramuros, the suburbs of Manila, the nearby provinces, and the farther provincial capitals accessible by ship and train, they had at least one manika, especially if there was an older child. The manika of the house would be brought out during parties, decked in the best clothes the owners could have. Sometimes the manika danced. Some could play a few tunes on a piano. The most expensive ones could sing several songs. The small store in Manila was kept busy by customers.

Maria, in her tattered skirt and old sandals and threadbare blouse, stared again at the manika sitting in rows. She stared at the manika, just admiring how pretty they were. She dreamed how the manika twirled and danced at someone’s house. This one with the blue glass eyes and real hair in two braids, wearing a white blouse and beautiful green skirt and brown leather shoes? Maybe it would soon be in a provincial governor’s house. His daughter would like to see the manika dancing and she would clap. This boy manika with the brown eyes and hair parted to the side, wearing a suit, well-pressed trousers, and black boots? She heard one of the boys in the mansion two blocks away wanted a new companion, maybe this manika would be just right.

Every day the shop owner and dollmaker, a fellow local, came out to greet her. “Would you want to look at the manika up close?”

Always she shook her head. “This is enough for me, thank you.”

She never dreamed of one for herself. It was never going to happen. Her husband died as a member of the Katipunan. She lived with relatives, cleaning stores for several kinder locals. Her income went into helping to buy food for her and her sister’s family.

After two months of this, the dollmaker came out and stood beside Maria. Maria cowered and began to leave.

“No, no, my dear, don’t go,” the dollmaker stopped her. “I have a proposition for you.”

Maria froze in place. “I can never pay for a manika,” she said, lowering her head.

“I am not asking for payment,” the dollmaker said. “Consider it … a gift, or a challenge for myself, take your pick.”

“But I—”

“We can do this, my suki,” he said. “I do need someone to clean the store, I’m no good at it and the last girl was no good. If you can come over before the shop opens and during siesta, we have a deal.”

She brightened up. She nodded.

Maria began to arrive at the dollmaker’s house in the morning, as the sun brightened the capital and the carriages rumbled here and there. The dollmaker was kind enough, giving her a small breakfast after cleaning in the morning, and a small lunch before she cleaned during siesta, besides the daily payment.

Even without the promise of getting a manika, just being allowed inside the store was more than enough for Maria. She dutifully cleaned the faces of the manika in the morning, removed the dust from the shelves, swept the floor, and tidied the store. She loved each manika as if they were her children, combing their hair carefully, smoothing down their clothes to present them best.

Two weeks later, the dollmaker gestured for Maria to follow him, past the storefront and into his workshop.

Seated on top of the table was a boy crafted of bamboo for his face, limbs, and torso, with some gears peeking out. The hair was horsehair pulled back to one side. The boy’s glass eyes blinked on seeing her. The mouth opened into a smile.

Maria approached. She did not expect something expensive. She would be fine with a twirling rusty castaway. This was more than she wanted, or expected. He was perfect. “He’s beautiful,” Maria said, caressing the manika’s face.

“Thank you.”

Maria startled and pulled away.

The dollmaker chuckled. “I told you I did my best work for this boy,” he said.

“He can … he can speak? On his own?”

“He can think on his own,” the dollmaker said.

“He can … do that?”

“Not as well as a true person, but well enough,” he said. “You can talk to him at home. You can bring him to market with you if you like. Maybe not cook, I’m not that good yet.”

Maria smiled at the manika, at the boy. “Thank you very much. I will take care of him well.”

“No need for promises,” the dollmaker said, returning a smile. “Just keep the joints clean and wind the clockwork every night.”

Maria approached the boy again, and wrapped her arms around him. “From now on, you are Julian. You are my child.”

Maria carefully cleaned Julian’s clockwork parts in the way the dollmaker instructed, keeping the gears well oiled and keeping the dust away from the other moving parts.

“I love you, mother.”

Maria patted his head. “I love you, my son.”

Julian cleaned the house while Maria and her sister’s family finished dinner. Then they talked together about the day, as she carefully wound him up before they both went to sleep beside each other on the banig.

Julian followed Maria wherever she went, helping in the cleaning where he could. Julian was generally ignored in many of the stores. After all, he wore a basic worker’s tunic, trousers, and sandals that Maria’s sister’s son grew out of. He was encased in bamboo, thus uninteresting to most of the elite. Sometimes, though, the store workers asked into the manika, and how it was possible that Maria had one no matter how humble. Maria quietly told them what the dollmaker did for her. Soon all the store workers greeted Julian as well as Maria when they arrived.

Maria’s other relatives thought Maria was at least odd, at worst insane. Several people even offered to take her to the doctors, one thought she was supposed to be brought to the asylum. At that last suggestion, Maria’s sister put her foot down and said no. They had no money for the asylum, and in her opinion Maria did not need it.

“Can’t she adopt? Can’t she remarry?” they asked the sister.

“What business of yours is it if she does not or will not?” the sister replied. “Is she harming anyone?”

“She is … being rumored about. That affects our reputation,” they answered.

“Maria is happy, happier than she has been for weeks. I prefer to have her happy and well,” the sister concluded the discussion.

And so Maria was happy with Julian, for several weeks and months.

The tension in the country, however, began to be more seriously felt in the capital. There were more guardia civil patrolling the streets, both inside Intramuros and outside in the suburbs and business districts. There were more obvious arrests at all hours of the day. Emotions flared often, leading to fights that the guardia civil needed to disperse. Everyone was cautious of everyone else, wondering who was a member of the Katipunan, who was supportive of the crown, who did not care, and who was a traitor.

The Katipunan, the resistance movement, according to rumors and movements in the capital, were gaining more and more supporters. The leaders of each region had begun to meet together, to consolidate their actions and movements.

Maria tried to her best to keep working as usual, cleaning as usual in all the stores that remained open. She kept silent and kept her head down. She was not as brave as her deceased husband. She was not good at keeping secrets or acting in secrecy, to maybe help the Katipunan, even if she sympathized. She lived with a family that she did not want to put at risk. She therefore did not want to join the movement herself, even in helping with preparing food or sending messages.

Then one night, as she was winding the clockwork before going to sleep, Julian told Maria: “I want to join the Katipunan.”

Maria suddenly paused. She must have heard wrong. She turned him around to face her. “We had a long day, my son. We need our rest.”

But Julian repeated: “I want to join the Katipunan.”

Maria’s eyes widened. Julian’s glass eyes locked with hers. His lips were a straight line. Maria blinked, blinked again. “You … you are serious.”

Julian gave one small nod. “I see the people you talk to. I see other people when we walk to work. I see them getting pulled away by the bad guardia. I also see our people talking to others, giving them hope of something better. You talk to me about Father. I want to do that, too.”

Maria was silent for several moments, as Julian kept his eyes on her. But slowly, she felt the tears trail down her cheeks. Pedro had looked at her exactly the same way, when he said exactly the same words. All that was left of him now was the kerchief he gave for her birthday, the year before she received the note from the head of his unit.

“I want to join,” Julian said again.

The tears fell faster, dropping onto her nightdress. “Please, my child,” Maria said. “You are all I have. Can’t you stay?”

“I love you, mother,” Juanito wrapped his arms around her. “But I must help.”

Maria pulled back for a moment. “How, dearest, how?”

“The ways I can.”

Maria went straight into the dollmaker’s workshop the next morning.

“What thoughts did you put in my son’s head?”

The dollmaker stood from his worktable in surprise. “I do not understand.”

“My son wants to join the Katipunan! How can … how can he decide such a thing? What did you put in the parts of my son’s head?”

“I only put the ability to think, to decide his actions for himself,” the dollmaker said. “I put no biases in him.”

“So you are saying, that is truly his own choice? Not something you implanted into him to decide?”

The dollmaker nodded. “If he had decided, against all odds, to be guardia civil, that is still his own choice.”

“Would this choice be altered if you remove his head components?”

The dollmaker remained silent for some moments, considering it. “I do not know. But I also do not wish to know.”


“Because he will no longer be your Julian.”

Maria patiently watched the windows as she cleaned the stores. In her pocket was a small piece of paper. She patiently waited several days, with Julian cleaning beside her.

Her moment came when a man walked past the manika store. She dropped her broom, exited the store, and ran to him.


She gave her small paper as she took up his hand. “Felipe. I have a request.”

Felipe was a clean-shaven man in a clean but well-worn tunic. Pedro had known him and introduced her. He was also in the Katipunan, but he and Pedro had been friends as farmers in Laguna even before they joined.

He closed his hand around the paper. He smiled as he looked here and there. “I will see what I can do. I am glad you are well.”

Maria then went back into the store, not expecting much, the way she had learned not to expect anything in life.

But as she and Julian were cleaning at a store a block away, she found Felipe waving from past the store window.

She met Felipe outside. “The leader is willing to listen to you.”

“Thank you.”

Felipe then moved on, avoiding the guardia civil passing the street.

Two more days passed, when Felipe returned to the manika store. “Come with me.”

Maria nodded and smiled as she took up Julian’s hand.

Felipe led them through the maze of streets of the walled capital, then outside past the gates. Maria silently followed, as Julian trotted beside her, his hand in hers. They continued into the business streets, and into a small house at the end of a narrow road.

Felipe knocked twice at the back door. Someone peeked at him, and at the two beside him. The door closed again for a moment, before opening, and gesturing them inside.

Maria found herself surrounded by men of various ages, all looking at a man nearing his forties seated over a banig on the wooden floor. Maria tightened her hand around Julian’s. The acknowledged leader watched Maria carefully, and Maria kept her head bowed.

Felipe placed a hand over his heart, and bowed. “Supremo. This is the woman I mentioned to you.”

But the man glared at Maria and Julian, then glared at Felipe. “Do you think we are fools?” the leader said. “We don’t need toys in the Katipunan!”

The others laughed or sneered, as Julian lowered his head.

Maria raised her head and stared them down. “My son is special. He can help the cause.”

“Your ... son?” The men laughed in unison and loudly. “You think that wind-up toy is your SON?”

“Yes,” Maria said.

“Yes,” Julian added, raising his head.

The men all stopped. They all stared at him.

“I wish to help the cause. I can do many things, if you give me a chance,” Julian said.

The men kept staring. “How is that toy speaking? Where is the card slot? The code drum?”

“I can speak for myself, sirs,” Julian said. “I can clean. I can get packages. I can bring messages. I can keep watch. Give me a chance.”

The men pulled back. “Either this … toy … is a thing of the devil, or this is a thing made to spy on us!”

“Julian is neither!” Maria said.

“Dismantle that toy!”

“No!” Maria placed herself in front of Julian and spread out her arms. “If you will not believe us, we will leave. He was made by the best dollmaker in Manila. My son is not the work of hell, and he is not a spy!”

Felipe stepped forward. “I will vouch for Maria. Pedro served us well and died honorably.”

“The woman is just deranged with grief, then.”

“So I have been told, many times,” Maria said. “But my son still wishes to serve. Let him serve in my place. In my husband’s place.”

The men whispered and grumbled among themselves, while the Supremo remained silent. Julian kept his head defiantly lifted as he waited. Maria kept her eyes on Julian.

The leader sighed. “Very well, sister,” he said. “I accept your sacrifice for the country. But at best, we can have this … son of yours … help only as a boy, and as a fancy instrument. We will not make him fight as a man. We will try not to add any more sorrow to you.”

Maria looked at Julian. He was smiling. “That is more than enough. Thank you.”


“Julian, Supremo,” he said, placing a hand over his torso.

“Julian, then. Felipe will come fetch you if we need your services.”

“Yes, sir.”

As they lay over the banig together that night, Maria kept her arms tightly around Julian.

“I do not want to lose you, my son.”

“I love you, mother. Always.”

Felipe began to regularly fetch Julian from the dollmaker’s shop while Maria cleaned. She gave him a kiss on the forehead every time.

“Take care of yourself, my son, and come back to me.”

“I love you, mother,” Julian said, hugging her.

Sometimes Felipe placed Julian in front of the shop where Maria cleaned, and this was how Maria found out how Julian helped the resistance.

Julian stood proudly at the sidewalk, with a wooden box beside him. People dropped coins into the box, as Julian sang Tagalog and Spanish songs in a warm tenor.

When a friend of the resistance was nearby, Julian would look around, and then sing cheerfully a popular Tagalog song about mothers, a tune that the resistance loved among themselves as it spoke about the motherland to them. The representative would then approach Julian, or Felipe if he was beside him, and receive the folded note placed in the wooden box. In this manner, messages were passed on from the regions to the Supremo, or from the Supremo to the nearby provinces.

When guardia civil were walking around the area, Julian loudly sang a sorrowful Spanish song about a lost jewel. Julian would keep singing that song and other sad Spanish songs, until the guardia civil had turned the corner and disappeared. Most people in the street did not notice the difference, and kept walking, or stopped to drop a coin in Julian’s box. Felipe collected the coins to help the cause. But for as long as the sad songs continued, no member of the resistance approached them.

Julian and Felipe changed their locations regularly and became a regular presence everywhere in the walled city and many streets beyond the walls. Felipe acted as Julian’s owner, a local begging by using a local version of the rich person’s manika. Felipe then returned Julian to Maria at the end of the day, with them heading home together.

Maria always embraced Julian when he was brought back. “I am glad you are safe, my son,” she always said.

“I am safe, mother,” he always said. “I love you.”

So it was that Julian helped the resistance in this way, as the tensions heightened around them all, as the arrests against Katipuneros increased, and the fighting outside the capital was felt more and more.

Maria wrapped her arms around Julian every night, as the sounds of night watches and the whistles of the guardia rang in the cobbled streets.

“I love you, mother,” Julian told her again.

“I don’t want you to go,” she said.

Julian faced his mother one night. “I have to join the front lines, mother.”

Maria looked at him carefully. “Can’t you stay here, my son?”

“The fighting has gotten more intense outside the capital, mother,” he said softly, not wanting to be heard by anyone but Maria. “The Supremo is already out there fighting for us, as well as many of the other Katipuneros. I need to help them there as well.”

“But, my son, you are a child, and a messenger. How will you help them?”

“I can help, mother, I promise.”

Maria wrapped her arms around him. “Please, my son. Stay here.”

“I love you, mother, always. But I need to help.”

Maria’s tears fell in steady streams that night.

Then with a long and tight embrace, she handed Julian to Felipe the next morning.

Sometimes a person knocked on the house’s back door, giving a folded note. The messenger changed every time, and came at no specified time. Always it was for Maria.

Your son is well. He cheers us up at the end of the day with his singing. For now the leader is considering how to use his other skills.

The messages were always rather cryptic, in case they were intercepted along the way. Some were longer than others.

Your son is well. More of the soldiers accept him now as one of us. Besides the singing, he helps with the cleaning, like he has always done. He is now able to help us more. The leader is grateful for him.

Maria did not ask further into how Julian was helping the leader. She did not want to put the resistance movement at risk. But rumors were reaching them that the fighting in the nearby provinces was getting an advantage over the government soldiers.

Your son is well, and the leader is grateful for his help. Thanks to his uniqueness he can assist in several fronts, even during the active fighting. At the end of the day he still sings to us and keeps our hopes up. Thank you for letting him come with us.

The messenger gave more details. Julian was able to send messages across battle lines, since he was made of metal and bamboo. The bamboo and wood components could be replaced as long as they were careful. Felipe made sure to wind him carefully at the end of the day.

Julian also sometimes helped in sending messages over to various towns. This helped in organizing the movements of the resistance, making them more unified and intentional.

Maria was pleased to hear this, but also concerned. “You mean my son has been put in danger, all this time?”

The messenger sighed. “He asked for the task. I was there.”

“Felipe did not stop him?”

“Felipe tried, sister,” the messenger said. “Julian could not be dissuaded.”

The letters came less and less. Maria trudged toward the Manila Cathedral more and more, walking carefully as close to the altar as she could, praying there for as long as she could for everyone’s safety, but especially for Julian’s safety.

Your son is well. I am sorry for not writing more often. It is harder to get paper and harder still to send someone to the nearest town. Things are more difficult for all, but our hopes for our country are always with us. Julian also reminds us why we are here. He keeps singing the songs we love, and everyone says he sings the Tagalog songs so well. He always talks about you, and how much you love him. Please stay well for us.

The messenger added: Julian had begun to retrieve bullets and bullet casings for them, besides helping with the messages.

Maria fell to sobbing. She then headed to the small chapel to pray for her son.

Sorry for the short note. Your son is well. There is just less time to rest now. We will write as soon as we can. Rest assured that we are all doing our best for our country, and that your son Julian is helping us greatly.

But, the letters stopped.

She opened the house door and found Felipe, alone.

Felipe took off his farmer’s hat, placed it over his heart. “I am very sorry, Maria.”

The tears had begun to flow onto her cheeks before Maria could even understand what he just said.

Felipe placed the hat over his head again, and placed his hand into his trouser pocket. He took up Maria’s hand, and placed the winding key. He then took something from his knapsack. He placed the central pump—the heart—in her hands. And one gear, from the head components, the brain.

“He did not have punch cards or code drums that could be saved,” Felipe said. “His thinking was integrated into his head components. The components were completely destroyed in their attack. I tried my best to protect him, but he was too far away. I am sorry.”

Maria kept looking at the winding key and the heart in her hands, tears still flowing.

She sensed nothing more.

Maria was somewhere between sleeping and waking, not knowing how many moments passed, not feeling hunger, barely feeling thirst. She could not even dream of the days with Julian, of the days with Pedro. Her eyes opened, then closed again, not feeling anything around her.

Sometimes she felt a hand stroke her head. “It was not your fault. Julian loved you until the end,” a male voice above her said. Maybe Felipe, she was not sure. But she faded back to sleep, not sensing any more words.

Eventually she sensed someone making her sit up, then helping her take soup and water first. She was still too saddened to focus on who it was, but she was grateful.

“It was not your fault. Julian loved you until the end,” he said again.

Maria wept again. “Why did I let him go? Why?”

“Because you love him, and you love your country as well. You are honorable, Maria, more than many.”

Maria gradually sensed the world again, the world that no longer had Julian. Felipe continued to appear beside her, to visit and to assist.

He continued to stay with her as the war for the nation gradually turned the tide, as Spain as an empire withdrew, ceding power to America. It was not the answer many in the Katipunan sought, but there would be far more bloodshed if the local soldiers did not surrender. Many of the Katipuneros disagreed with the leader the Americans declared as president of the nation, one of the regional leaders but not fully the acknowledged Supremo. But more locals, now formally called Filipinos no matter their roots and mix of race, preferred the return to peace and order, and accepted the president.

Felipe continued to stay, until Maria’s sister and her family accepted him, and until he was accepted by Maria herself. He continued to stay until he married her, until they made a new family together.

They named the baby Josefina, after Maria’s mother. The baby got her father’s hair and face, her mother’s eyes.

During the evenings, as the small family lay together in the mats, Maria hummed a song to Josefina, and told her stories. Around Maria’s neck was an inexpensive chain, holding a winding key and a gear.

“Pining, my love, let me tell you about your older brother,” Maria said. “Julian was a good son. He gave me much joy, and he was very brave.”

EK Gonzales sometimes writes speculative fiction. Previous publications include Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction, Insignia, Flesh: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology, Be Me: LGBTQIA+ Stories of Belonging; and the YA novella Jumper Cable Chronicles: Santa (Saint) Anita. They are best known as a supporter and reviewer of current Filipino komiks. (they/them)
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