Gemma Cruz Araneta
Much too often, snippets of “legal wife versus mistress” pop up while I am scrolling for breaking news about the J6 Select Committee hearings in the USA, or the billion dollars awarded to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu by a foreign arbitral court. I am always tempted to watch because the snippets, usually produced in Korean, Taiwan and Thailand, give familiar stories startling intimacy.
The protagonists are all North Asian types portraying “crazy rich Asian.” The mistress is a younger version of the wife, but is just as malign as her rival. Both look like they had just stepped out of a beauty salon, whisked by Bulgari and Christian Dior for a self-confidence boost. As for the errant husband, he is sartorially appealing, complexion as impeccable as the ladies’ and is just as well coiffed. The local versions of these dramatically vengeful episodes are just as compelling.
For the purpose of this article, let us define “mistress” or “querida” as a usually unmarried girlfriend or lover of a married man with whom he has sexual relations and giving financial support. To put it crudely, he is her meal ticket.
The manner in which the lovers are caught in flagrante is commonplace: At a fancy restaurant with tuxedoed waiters, the wife glides in, goes directly to the unsuspecting lovers’ table, spits bitter words of reproach and douses the mistress with wine while husband looks on helplessly. Such scenes have taken place in real life. One of my childhood friends did something similar to her husband’s mistress and he lost his power of speech at that moment.
My favorite film clip must be Korean from the look of the actresses. It is about a gynecologist whose patient is the unsuspecting young mistress complaining of general malaise. She unknowingly submits to a pregnancy test which turns out positive. Apparently, the gyno and her perfidious husband are good friends of the girl’s family because the next scene is a sit-down dinner at the girl’s Alabang-type home. The doctor announces that the daughter of the house is pregnant. I could not read the subtitles fast enough, so I don’t know whether she was pretending to congratulate the future grandparents or denouncing the illicit love affair.
The “moment of truth” in local versions is set in esplanades of luxurious condos where mistress had carelessly left her car parked and as the lovers exit from their tryst holding hands. Wife suddenly appears and puts the car to torch. Other encounters are poolside implying that husband was dumb enough to have booked both women in the same six-star hotel. There is a lot of hair-pulling, bikinis are torn to shreds.
As the husband witnesses the two women in his life ferociously fighting over him, what does he do? Next to nothing. He offers an explanation to his wife but she slaps him. Gone is the patina of old-fashioned toughness, he is reduced to a stunned nonentity, with jaws dropped. You begin to wonder why the two women are fighting over him.
Scandals have wings and real life is always more salacious. During the Marcos martial law years, it was rumored that a government official in the inner circles of power had acquired a new mistress, a “flavor of the month” starlet whom he had set up somewhere in Quezon City.
Lo and behold, the legal wife appeared in the movie star’s condo with her mahjong mates and their respective bodyguards, she began pointing out stuff that belonged to her and ordered the bodyguards to retrieve them piece by piece. “That Amorsolo painting is mine, I gave it to him for his birthday, the sinverguenza. …Those ceramic elephants I bought in Thailand and he told me he needed gifts for visiting heads of state. Puñetero! If looks could kill, the hapless vedette would have dropped dead. The flat was practically bare after the legal wife retrieved conjugal possessions. No one knows how the husband reacted, but there was a trail of mistresses after the vedette.
Another legal wife of my acquaintance was more imaginative, took the mistress to court for usurpation of legal status because the mistress went about using her husband’s surname. However, the fiscal said there is no jurisprudence for usurpation of status under the 1887 Spanish Penal Code which is still in force. What is mentioned in that arcane law is impersonation for the purpose of monetary gain. The fiscal said the case might be dismissed by a judge because the mistress, though she was young enough to be the wife’s daughter, was short and unattractive, she could not possibly impersonate the wife. What a pity, I told her, the fiscal lost an opportunity for making a name for herself by pioneering in what could have been a maiden case.