My Brother's Peculiar Chicken (Alejandro R. Roces)

My brother Kiko once had a very peculiar chicken. It was peculiar because no one could tell whether it was a rooster or a hen. My brother claimed it was a rooster. I claimed it was a hen. We almost got whipped because we argued too much.

The whole question began early one morning. Kiko and I were driving the chickens from the cornfield. The corn had just been planted, and the chickens were scratching the seeds out for food. Suddenly we heard the rapid flapping of wings. We turned in the direction of the sound and saw two chickens fighting in the far end of the field. We could not see the birds clearly as they were lunging at each other in a whirlwind of feathers and dust.

“Look at that rooster fight!” my brother said, pointing exactly at one of the chickens. “Why, if I had a rooster like that, I could get rich in the cockpits.”

“Let’s go and catch it,” I suggested.

“No, you stay here. I will go and catch it,” Kiko said.

My brother slowly approached the battling chickens. They were so busy fighting that they did not notice him. When he got near them, he dived and caught one of them by the leg. It struggled and squawked. Kiko finally held it by both wings and it became still. I ran over where he was and took a good look at the chicken.

“Why, it is a hen,” I said.

“What is the matter with you?” my brother asked. “Is the heat making you sick?”

“No. Look at its face. It has no comb or wattles.”

“No comb and wattles! Who cares about its comb or wattles? Didn’t you see it in fight?”

“Sure, I saw it in fight. But I still say it is a hen.”

“Ahem! Did you ever see a hen with spurs on its legs like these? Or a hen with a tail like this?”

“I don’t care about its spurs or tail. I tell you it is a hen. Why, look at it.”

The argument went on in the fields the whole morning. At noon we went to eat lunch. We argued about it on the way home. When we arrived at our house Kiko tied the chicken to a peg. The chicken flapped its wings and then crowed.

“There! Did you hear that?” my brother exclaimed triumphantly. “I suppose you are going to tell me now that hens crow and that carabaos fly.”

“I don’t care if it crows or not,” I said. “That chicken is a hen.”

We went into the house, and the discussion continued during lunch.

“It is not a hen,” Kiko said. “It is a rooster.”

“It is a hen,” I said.

“It is not.”

“It is.”

“Now, now,” Mother interrupted, “how many times must Father tell you, boys, not to argue during lunch? What is the argument about this time?”

We told Mother, and she went out look at the chicken.

“That chicken,” she said, “is a binabae. It is a rooster that looks like a hen.”

That should have ended the argument. But Father also went out to see the chicken, and he said, “Have you been drinking again?” Mother asked.

“No,” Father answered.

“Then what makes you say that that is a hen? Have you ever seen a hen with feathers like that?”

“Listen. I have handled fighting cocks since I was a boy, and you cannot tell me that that thing is a rooster.”

Before Kiko and I realized what had happened, Father and Mother were arguing about the chicken by themselves. Soon Mother was crying. She always cried when she argued with Father.

“You know very well that that is a rooster,” she said. “You are just being mean and stubborn.”

“I am sorry,” Father said. “But I know a hen when I see one.”

“I know who can settle this question,” my brother said.

“Who?” I asked.

“The teniente del Barrio, chief of the village.”

The chief was the oldest man in the village. That did not mean that he was the wisest, but anything always carried more weight if it is said by a man with gray hair. So my brother untied the chicken and we took it to the chief.

“Is this a male or a female chicken?” Kiko asked.

“That is a question that should concern only another chicken,” the chief replied.

“My brother and I happen to have a special interest in this particular chicken. Please give us an answer. Just say yes or no. Is this a rooster?”

“It does not look like any rooster I have ever seen,” the chief said.

“Is it a hen, then?” I asked.

“It does not look like any hen I have ever seen. No, that could not be a chicken. I have never seen like that. It must be a bird of some other kind.”

“Oh, what’s the use!” Kiko said, and we walked away.

“Well, what shall we do now?” I said.

“I know that,” my brother said. “Let’s go to town and see Mr. Cruz. He would know.”

Mr. Eduardo Cruz lived in a nearby town of Katubusan. He had studied poultry raising in the University of the Philippines. He owned and operated the largest poultry business in town. We took the chicken to his office.

“Mr. Cruz,” Kiko said, “is this a hen or a rooster?”

Mr. Cruz looked at the bird curiously and then said:

“Hmmm. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell in one look. I have never run across a chicken like this before.”

“Well, is there any way you can tell?”

“Why, sure. Look at the feathers on its back. If the feathers are round, then it’s a hen. If they are pointed, it’s a rooster.”

The three of us examined the feathers closely. It had both.

“Hmmm. Very peculiar,” said Mr. Cruz.

“Is there any other way you can tell?”

“I could kill it and examined its insides.”

“No. I do not want it killed,” my brother said.

I took the rooster in my arms and we walked back to the barrio.

Kiko was silent most of the way. Then he said:

“I know how I can prove to you that this is a rooster.”

“How?” I asked.

“Would you agree that this is a rooster if I make it fight in the cockpit and it wins?”

“If this hen of yours can beat a gamecock, I will believe anything,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll take it to the cockpit this Sunday.”

So that Sunday we took the chicken to the cockpit. Kiko looked around for a suitable opponent. He finally picked a red rooster.

“Don’t match your hen against that red rooster.” I told him. “That red rooster is not a native chicken. It is from Texas.”

“I don’t care where it came from,” my brother said. “My rooster will kill it.”

“Don’t be a fool,” I said. “That red rooster is a killer. It has killed more chickens than the fox. There is no rooster in this town that can stand against it. Pick a lesser rooster.”

My brother would not listen. The match was made and the birds were readied for the killing. Sharp steel gaffs were tied to their left legs. Everyone wanted to bet on the red gamecock.

The fight was brief. Both birds were released in the centre of the arena. They circled around once and then faced each other. I expected our chicken to die of fright. Instead, a strange thing happened. A lovesick expression came into the red rooster’s eyes. Then it did a love dance. That was all our chicken needed. It rushed at the red rooster with its neck feathers flaring. In one lunge, it buried its spurs into its opponent’s chest. The fight was over.

“Tiope! Tiope! Fixed fight!” the crowd shouted.

Then a riot broke out. People tore bamboo benches apart and used them as clubs. My brother and I had to leave through the back way. I had the chicken under my arm. We ran toward the coconut groves and kept running till we lost the mob. As soon as we were safe, my brother said:

“Do you believe it is a rooster now?”

“Yes,” I answered.

I was glad the whole argument was over.

Just then the chicken began to quiver. It stood up in my arms and cackled with laughter. Something warm and round dropped into my hand. It was an egg.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

Woman With Horns (Cecilia Menguera - Brainard)

Dr. Gerald McAllister listened to the rattle of doors being locked and footsteps clattering on the marble floors. The doctors and nurses were hurrying home. It was almost noon and the people of Ubec always lunched in their dining rooms their high ceilings, where their servants served soup, fish, meat, rice, and rich syrupy flan for dessert. After, they retired to their spacious, air rooms for their midday siesta. At three, they resumed work or their studies.

His assistant, Dr. Jaime Laurel, had explained that the practice was due to the tropical heat and high humidity. Even the dogs, he had pointed out, retreated under houses and shade trees.

Gerald could not understand this local custom. An hour for lunch should be more than enough. He barely had that when he was a practising physician in New York.

He reread his report about the cholera epidemic in the southern town of Carcar. It was an impressive report, well written, with numerous facts. Thanks to his vaccination program, the epidemic was now under control. This success was another feather in his cap, one of many he had accumulated during his stay in the Philippine Islands. No doubt Governor General Taft or perhaps even President McKinley would send him a letter of commendation. Politicians were like that; they appreciated information justifying America’s hold on the archipelago.

He glanced at the calendar on his ornate desk. It was March 16, 1903, a year and a half since he arrived at the port of Ubec aboard the huge steamship from San Francisco. Three years since Blanche died.

His head hurt and removed his glasses to stroke his forehead. When the headache passed, he straightened the papers on his desk and left the office. He was annoyed at how quiet his wing at the Ubec General Hospital was, as he walked past locked doors, potted palms, and sand – filled spittoons.

In front of Dr, Laurel’s office, he saw a woman trying to open the door. She looked distraught and wrung her hands. She was a native Ubecan – Gerald had seen her at the Mayor’s functions – a comely woman with bronze skin and long hair so dark it looked blue. She wore a long hair so dark it turned blue. She wore a long blue satin skirt. An embroidered panuelo over her camisa was pinned to her bosom with a magnificent brooch of gold and pearls.

“It is lunchtime,” he said. “His Spanish was bad and his Ubecan dialect far worse.

Dark fiery eyes flashed at him.

“Comer,” he said, gesturing with his right hand to his mouth.

“I know its lunchtime. It wasn’t, fifteen minutes ago.” She tried the door once more and slapped her skirt in frustration. Tears started welling in her eyes. “My husband died over a year ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. He was in pain for years; consumption. I have been coughing and last night, I dreamt of a funeral. I became afraid. I have a daughter, you see.”

“Dr. Laurel will return at three.”

“You are a doctor. American doctors are supposed to be the best. Can you help me?”

“I don’t see patients.”

“Ah,” she said, curved eyebrows rising. She picked up her fan with a gold chain pinned to her skirt. “Ah, a doctor who doesn’t see patients.” She fanned herself slowly.

Her words irritated him and he brusquely said, “Come back in a few hours; Dr. Laurel will be back then.” She stood there with eyes still moist, her neck tilted gracefully to one side and her hand languorously moving the fan back and forth.

“It was nothing.” Jaime said. “I listened to her chest and back. There are no lesions, no TB. I told her to return in a month. I think she is spectacular; she can come back for check – ups forever.” With mischief in his eyes, he added, “Agustina Macaraig has skin like velvet; if she were not my patient –“

“Jaime, your oath. You and your women. Doesn’t your wife mind?” Gerald said.

“Eh, she’s the mother of my children, is she not?” Shrugging his shoulders, he fixed the panama hat on his head.

It was late Friday afternoon and they were promenading in the park, trying to catch the cool sea breeze. The park was in front of an Old Spanish fort. There was a playground in the middle of the benches were scattered under the surrounding acacia and mango trees. Children led by their yayas crowded the playground. Men and women walked or hudddled together to talk about the day’s events.

As he walked by the playground, Gerald was surprised to see Agustina pushing a girl of around five on the swing. When the child pleaded to do the pushing, Agustina got on the swing. He watched her kick her legs out and throw her head back, her blue – black hair flying about. She was laughing, oblivious to the scandal she was causing.

“The people don’t approve of her,” Gerald commented when he noticed women gossiping behind their fans, their eyes riveted on Agustina.

“There is a saying here in Ubec, ‘A mango tree cannot bear avocados,” Jaime continued.

Gerald shrugged his shoulders.

“Look at her. Is she not delectable?” Jaime said. “People say she is wicked, like her mother. She has a very mysterious background.”

They sat on a bench next to a blooming hibiscus bush where they could see her. The child pushed her hard and Agustina’s infectious laughter rose above other sounds.

“I can see why the people would despise a widow who carries on the way she does,” Gerald said.

“But, friend, you don’t understand. We love her. She is one of us. It’s just that Ubecans love to gossip even when she patiently nursed her husband. They said she had lovers but for five years, she took care of him. The people of Ubec like to talk. Over their meals, they talk; after eating, they talk; outside church after worshipping God, they talk; during afternoon walks, they talk. Just like we’re talking, no?”

“I did not come here to gossip. I was perfectly content planning my bubonic plague campaign when you –“

“Friend, you don’t know how to enjoy life. Look at the sun turning red, getting ready to set spectacularly. It is a wonderful afternoon, you walk with a friend, you talk about beautiful women, about life. Now, let me finish my story. People say her – mother a simple laundry woman – jumped over the seminary walls and behind those hollowed walls, under the arbol de fuego trees, she bedded with one of Christ’s chosen.”


“Ridiculous, nothing,” Jaime replied as he pulled out a cigar from his pocket and offered it to Gerald. “Tabacalera, almost as good as Havanas.”

Gerald shook his head. “Thank you, but I don’t smoke.”

“You don’t smoke; you don’t have women; you are a shell. Bringing you here was a chore. Are all American doctors like yourself? If they are, I wouldn’t be caught dead in your rich and great country. You look like a god from Olympus – tall, blonde with gray eyes. You’re not forty, yet you act like an old man.”

“Jaime, skip the lecture and get on with your story.” Gerald watched Agustina loll her head back. She was biting her lower lip, afraid of how high she was.

“If you were not my boss, I would shake you to your senses. Anyway, the story goes that Agustina was born with horns.”


“Like tor, yes.” Jaime put his fingers to his forehead. “At noon, her mother went to the enchanted river to do her wash. The spirits roam at that time, do you know what?”

Gerald shook his head at this nonsense. “I swim almost daily at your so – called enchanted river and I have seen nothing but fish and an occasional water buffalo. Filthy animals.”

“Well, maybe there are or aren’t spirits, no? Who are we to say there are none? The people say that her mother had – ah, how do you say – an encounter with an encantado, a river spirit. And Agustina is the product of that brief encounter.”

Gerald watched her jump off the swing, her skirt swirling up, her shapely legs flashing before his eyes.

“Her mother bribed a carpenter to saw off her horns when she was an infant.”

“She doesn’t look much like a river spirit’s daughter, Jaime,” Gerald said with a snort.

“Beware, you can never be sure.”

She took the girl’s hand and they ran into a group of women. Agustina carried on an animated conversation then waved goodbye. Before she turned to leave the park, she looked briefly at Gerald. He caught her gaze but she quickly lowered her eyes and walked away as if she had not seen him.

On the way to the Mayor’s house, Gerald thought that attending social functions was part of his job. He was not only Ubec’s Public Health Director, he was also an ambassador – of – sorts for the United States. The truth was, he didn’t really mind social affairs at all. They kept him occupied. When he was busy, he didn’t have time to think about the past, to feel that shakiness, that pain that had possessed him after Blanche died.

During the day he was fine; he worked, lunched, swam, went on promenades, had rich frothy chocolate with the men. Later he dined; sipped after – dinner brandies and liqueurs, and chatted until way past midnight. It was when the servants locked the doors and the house was still, when the only sound was the lonely clatter of the night watchman, that he would feel his composure slip away. His heart would palpitate and an uneasiness would overcome him. He would try to cram his mind with thoughts – health education campaigns, sanitation programs, quarantine reports – but the disquiet would stay with him.

The mayor of Ubec, a small, round man, greeted Gerald warmly. He introduced him as the great American doctor who was wiping out cholera, smallpox, and bubonic plague from Ubec. The people knew him of course and they shook his hand heartily. They congratulated him on his recent success in Carcar and inquired about his current bubonic plague campaigns. Rats, Gerald explained, transmit the disease; therefore, getting rid of the pets by traps and arsenic poisoning would eliminate the problem.

When the food was served on the long dining table with tall silver candelabras, the Mayor teased Dr. McAllister for his squeamishness at the roasted pig. The women giggled demurely, covering their mouths with their hand painted fans or lace handkerchiefs, while the men laughed boisterously. The Mayor’s mother, a fat old lady with a moustache, tore off the pig’s ear and pressed it in Gerald’s hand. “Taste it, my American son,” she said. Laughing and clapping, the people urged him until he finally did.

When he later went to the verandah to drink his rice wine, he saw Agustina standing there, gazing at the stars. She looked different, not the frightened woman at the hospital, not the carefree girl at the park, but a proper Ubecan window in black, with her hair done in a severe bun. Curiously, the starkness enhanced her grace and beauty, calling attention to the curves of her body.

“You did not like the lechon?” she asked softly, with an amused twinkle in her eyes.

“I beg your pardon? Oh – the – pig?” He shook his head, embarrassed that she had witnessed that charade. They were alone and he hoped someone would join them.

“What do Americans eat, Dr. McAllister?” She was studying him, eyes half – closed with a one – sided smile that was very becoming.

Gerald pushed his hair from his hair from his forehead. “Pies – cherry pies, boysenberry pies – I miss them all. Frankly, I have –“

She drew closer to him and he caught a warm, musky scent coming from her body.

“– I have lost ten pounds since I’ve been here.”

“In kilos, how many?”

“Around four and a half.”

“Santa Clara! You must get rid of your cook. She must be an incompetent, starving you like that. It is a shame to the people of Ubec.”

Gerald watched her, aware of his growing infatuation.

“I like you,” she said suddenly. “You and I have a kinship. Come to my house and my daughter and I will feed you.” Pausing, she reached up to stroke his face with her fan. His cheeks burned. “Nothing exotic,” she continued, “just something good.” Her eyes flashed as she smiled. “You know where I live?”

He hesitated the shook his head. His knees were shaking.

“The house at the mouth of the river. I see you swimming during siesta time. I like to swim at night, when the moon is full.” She looked at him, closed her eyes languidly and walked away.

After dinner, Gerald hurried home and paced his bedroom floor. He should have been flattered by Agustina’s advances, but instead he was angry and confused. She was enchanting and desirable and he was upset that he should find her so.

Once he had been unfaithful when Blanche was bedridden. The surgical nurse who laughed a lot had been willing, and he had wanted even for just for a few hours to forget, to be happy. Blanche had known, just by looking at him. “Oh, Tiger, how could you? How could you?” After her death, he had not given this side of himself a thought. Yet now, he found himself recalling that indescribable musky – woman scent emanating from Agustina.

There was something else. It bothered him deeply that Agustina, widowed for only a little over a year, would laugh, be happy, even flirt outrageously with him. Why was she not consumed with grief? Why did she not sit at home crocheting white doilies? Why did she not light candles in the crumbling musty churches, the way proper Ubecan widows did? He was outraged at her behaviour. He condemned her for the life that oozed out of her, when he needed every ounce of his strength just to stay sane.

He strode to his desk and stared at the album with photographs, which he had not looked at in years. The wedding picture showed a vibrant smiling girl with a ring of tiny white flowers around her blonde curly hair. His face was unlined then, and his moustache seemed an affection. Anxious eyes peered through round eyeglasses, as if he knew then that the future would give him anguish.

He studied the other pictures – serious daguerreotypes – that unleashed a flood of emotions. He found himself weeping at some, smiling at others. He remembered Blanche’s soft voice: “Oh, Tiger, I adore you so.” Blanche in bed, waiting for him. And later, Blanche in bed, pale, thin, with limp hair. She had been eaten bit by bit by consumption; she had been consumed, only a skeleton, that coughed incessantly and spat blood remained. Gerald did not believe in God, but he had prayed for her death, just so it would end. When she died, he was surprised to feel another kind of grief, more acute, more searing.

After her funeral, his mind would go on and on about how useless he was – a doctor whose wife died of consumption was a failure. And always the soft voice: “Oh, Tiger, how could you?”

Returning from his work each night, he had found himself waiting for her voice: How was your day, Tiger? He saw slight women with curly blonde hair and he followed them. He plunged into a depression – not eating, unable to work, to think clearly, to talk coherently. He stayed shut up in his room with wine – coloured drapes. At times he thought he was losing his mind. When he pointed a gun to his forehead, a part of him panicked and said: NO. That part had taken over and started running his life again. Eat, so you will gain weight; exercise, so your body will be healthy; work, so your mind will not dwell on the agony.

It was this part that led him to the Islands, far away, from slight women with curly blonde hair. It was the same part that now said: Blanche is dead, you are alive; you have the right to laugh and be happy just as Agustina laughs and is happy.

Gerald struggled within himself but would not allow himself to surrender his mourning. He decided not to see Agustina; he would not allow her to corrupt him.

Governor General William H. Taft’s handwritten letter from Manila arrived the morning and Gerald reread it several times, trying to absorb the congratulatory words. He felt nothing. He would have not cared if the letter had never come. He realized he didn’t really care, nowadays. Work was predictable; there was a little risk. He applied himself and the laurels came. But the successes, the commendations did not fill emptiness. He picked up the conch shell that he used as a paper weight and tapped it, listening to the hollow ring that echoed in his office.

Gerald went to Jaime’s office to show him the letter. Jaime appeared cross; he sat erect and immobile as he listened quietly.

“Well?” Gerald asked after reading the letter aloud.

“The letter – it’s a fine letter, don’t you think?” he hoped for an enthusiastic reply that would rub some life into him.

“The Mayor’s mother is dead.” Jaime said. “She choked on some food.”

“Too bad. Well, at least it wasn’t typhoid or anything contagious,” he said.

Jaime’s black eyes snapped at him.”You bastard!” he said. “All you can think about is work. You have no soul.”

Gerald could not work the rest of the morning. He felt a growing restlessness, a vague uneasiness that he could not pinpoint. No soul. Had he indeed lost his soul? Was that why he could not feel and why he didn’t care about anything? In trying to bring order to his life, in restructuring it after Blanche died, had he lost a vital part of himself – his soul?

Funerals, Gerald thought as he walked into the Mayor’s house, were dreary, maudlin affairs, where people wore long faces and tried to sound sincere as they dug up some memory of the deceased.

He braced himself when he saw mourners in black and the huge black bow on the Mayor’s front door. Inside, he was surprised to see the number of people crowding the place. Some wept; others laughed and related stories about the old woman. A rather festive air filled the place.

The Mayor hugged Gerald, saying, “What a tragedy, what a tragedy! She was eating pickled pig snout when suddenly she choked. It was over before any of us could do anything. She loved you like a son and worried that you were too thin.”

“I’m sorry,” mumbled Gerald.

The Mayor brought him to the casket in the living room. “Mama chose her own funeral picture,” the Mayor said as he pointed at the huge picture of a slim, young girl, propped up next to the coffin. “She was a vain woman. The picture was taken almost half a century ago.”

The mayor continued, “Her mind was not clear. She wanted to be buried in her wedding gown but it was far too small. I had to hire three seamstresses to work all night. They ripped and stitched, adding panels to the cloth of the dress. It was still too small. Finally we decided to clothe her in another dress and to lay her wedding gown on top, pinning it here and there to keep it in place. Family deaths can be trying,” he said.

The old Spanish friar said a Latin Mass and spoke lengthily about her goodness and kindness. “She had a rich and long life,” he concluded. Six men picked up the casket and carried it downstairs. Near the hearse, an old man riding a horse stopped them. He was dressed in revolutionary uniform with medals hanging on his chest, and a gun on his right hand which he fired once. Gasping, the mourners stopped still. The old man ordered the men to open the casket. He got off his horse, bent over the casket and planted a kiss on the corpse’s lips. Then, he got back on his horse and galloped off.

It took a while for the mourners to compose themselves and continue to the cemetery. A pair of scissors was placed under the satin pillow; family members kissed the body; the priest blessed the coffin and she was finally buried.

Everybody returned to the Mayor’s house for a huge banquet. Jaime tried to explain the revelry by saying that the person was feted on his birth, his marriage, and his death. “It’s the end of a good life, my friend,” he said.

Agustina, who was there, walked up to Gerald. “It was a beautiful funeral,” she said.

“I’ve never attended one like it,” he replied and laughed. “I guess it was.”

They were near a window and she looked out, “Ah, the moon is full.”

From his room, Gerald watched the large moon rise, shining on the starapple and jackfruit trees in his backyard. It was a warm night, even with all the windows open. He waited for even the slightest breeze to stir the silvery leaves, but there was no wind and a restlessness grew in him.

At last he decided to go to the river. Silence and oppressive heat dominated Ubec as he walked the cobblestones. He reached the path leading to the river and the sea. The moon was so bright that the air seemed to vibrate as he followed the trail that widened, then narrowed, then widened again, until he reached the riverbank.

After leaving his things under a coconut tree, he walked to the water and saw how clear it was. Little gray fish darted between colourful rocks. In the distance the river and sea shimmered brilliantly.

The water felt cool and silky. Gerald swam back and forth, marvelling at the brazenness of the fish that brushed against him, some even nibbling his toes. He spotted a bright green rock and wondered about it. Diving at the river bottom, he fetched it. When he surfaced, he saw her standing next to his things. He was not surprised; he knew she would be there.

Moonlight bathed her, making her glow. A green and red tapis was wrapped around her, exposing golden shoulders and neck, showing mounds of flesh.

Gerald felt life stirring in him and, holding his breath, he waded to the shore. She walked toward him. The water splashed and the small gray fish skittered away when she slipped into the water. He watched the river creep higher and higher as her tapis floated gracefully around her, until they fell into each other’s arms.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

My Father Goes To Court (Carlos Bulusan)

When I was four, I lived with my mother and brothers and sisters in a small town on the island of Luzon. Father’s farm had been destroyed in 1918 by one of our sudden Philippine floods, so several years afterwards we all lived in the town though he preferred living in the country. We had as a next door neighbour a very rich man, whose sons and daughters seldom came out of the house. While we boys and girls played and sang in the sun, his children stayed inside and kept the windows closed. His house was so tall that his children could look in the window of our house and watched us played, or slept, or ate, when there was any food in the house to eat.

Now, this rich man’s servants were always frying and cooking something good, and the aroma of the food was wafted down to us form the windows of the big house. We hung about and took all the wonderful smells of the food into our beings. Sometimes, in the morning, our whole family stood outside the windows of the rich man’s house and listened to the musical sizzling of thick strips of bacon or ham. I can remember one afternoon when our neighbour’s servants roasted three chickens. The chickens were young and tender and the fat that dripped into the burning coals gave off an enchanting odour. We watched the servants turn the beautiful birds and inhaled the heavenly spirit that drifted out to us.

Some days the rich man appeared at a window and glowered down at us. He looked at us one by one, as though he were condemning us. We were all healthy because we went out in the sun and bathed in the cool water of the river that flowed from the mountains into the sea. Sometimes we wrestled with one another in the house before we went to play. We were always in the best of spirits and our laughter was contagious. Other neighbours who passed by our house often stopped in our yard and joined us in laughter.

As time went on, the rich man’s children became thin and anaemic, while we grew even more robust and full of life. Our faces were bright and rosy, but theirs were pale and sad. The rich man started to cough at night; then he coughed day and night. His wife began coughing too. Then the children started to cough, one after the other. At night their coughing sounded like the barking of a herd of seals. We hung outside their windows and listened to them. We wondered what happened. We knew that they were not sick from the lack of nourishment because they were still always frying something delicious to eat.

One day the rich man appeared at a window and stood there a long time. He looked at my sisters, who had grown fat in laughing, then at my brothers, whose arms and legs were like the molave, which is the sturdiest tree in the Philippines. He banged down the window and ran through his house, shutting all the windows.

From that day on, the windows of our neighbour’s house were always closed. The children did not come out anymore. We could still hear the servants cooking in the kitchen, and no matter how tight the windows were shut, the aroma of the food came to us in the wind and drifted gratuitously into our house.

One morning a policeman from the presidencia came to our house with a sealed paper. The rich man had filed a complaint against us. Father took me with him when he went to the town clerk and asked him what it was about. He told Father the man claimed that for years we had been stealing the spirit of his wealth and food.

When the day came for us to appear in court, father brushed his old Army uniform and borrowed a pair of shoes from one of my brothers. We were the first to arrive. Father sat on a chair in the centre of the courtroom. Mother occupied a chair by the door. We children sat on a long bench by the wall. Father kept jumping up from his chair and stabbing the air with his arms, as though we were defending himself before an imaginary jury.

The rich man arrived. He had grown old and feeble; his face was scarred with deep lines. With him was his young lawyer. Spectators came in and almost filled the chairs. The judge entered the room and sat on a high chair. We stood in a hurry and then sat down again.

After the courtroom preliminaries, the judge looked at the Father. “Do you have a lawyer?” he asked.

“I don’t need any lawyer, Judge,” he said.

“Proceed,” said the judge.

The rich man’s lawyer jumped up and pointed his finger at Father. “Do you or you do not agree that you have been stealing the spirit of the complaint’s wealth and food?”

“I do not!” Father said.

“Do you or do you not agree that while the complaint’s servants cooked and fried fat legs of lamb or young chicken breast you and your family hung outside his windows and inhaled the heavenly spirit of the food?”

“I agree.” Father said.

“Do you or do you not agree that while the complaint and his children grew sickly and tubercular you and your family became strong of limb and fair in complexion?”

“I agree.” Father said.

“How do you account for that?”

Father got up and paced around, scratching his head thoughtfully. Then he said, “I would like to see the children of complaint, Judge.”

“Bring in the children of the complaint.”

They came in shyly. The spectators covered their mouths with their hands, they were so amazed to see the children so thin and pale. The children walked silently to a bench and sat down without looking up. They stared at the floor and moved their hands uneasily.

Father could not say anything at first. He just stood by his chair and looked at them. Finally he said, “I should like to cross – examine the complaint.”


“Do you claim that we stole the spirit of your wealth and became a laughing family while yours became morose and sad?” Father said.


“Do you claim that we stole the spirit of your food by hanging outside your windows when your servants cooked it?” Father said.


“Then we are going to pay you right now,” Father said. He walked over to where we children were sitting on the bench and took my straw hat off my lap and began filling it up with centavo pieces that he took out of his pockets. He went to Mother, who added a fistful of silver coins. My brothers threw in their small change.

“May I walk to the room across the hall and stay there for a few minutes, Judge?” Father said.

“As you wish.”

“Thank you,” father said. He strode into the other room with the hat in his hands. It was almost full of coins. The doors of both rooms were wide open.

“Are you ready?” Father called.

“Proceed.” The judge said.

The sweet tinkle of the coins carried beautifully in the courtroom. The spectators turned their faces toward the sound with wonder. Father came back and stood before the complaint.

“Did you hear it?” he asked.

“Hear what?” the man asked.

“The spirit of the money when I shook this hat?” he asked.


“Then you are paid,” Father said.

The rich man opened his mouth to speak and fell to the floor without a sound. The lawyer rushed to his aid. The judge pounded his gravel.

“Case dismissed.” He said.

Father strutted around the courtroom the judge even came down from his high chair to shake hands with him. “By the way,” he whispered, “I had an uncle who died laughing.”

“You like to hear my family laugh, Judge?” Father asked?

“Why not?”

“Did you hear that children?” father said.

My sisters started it. The rest of us followed them soon the spectators were laughing with us, holding their bellies and bending over the chairs. And the laughter of the judge was the loudest of all.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

The Sadness Collector (Merlinda Bobis)

And she will not stop eating, another pot, another plate, another mouthful of sadness, and she will grow bigger and bigger, and she will burst.

On the bed, six – year – old Rica braces herself, waiting for the dreaded explosion –

Nothing. No big bang. Because she’s been a good girl. Her tears are not even a mouthful tonight. And maybe their neighbours in the run – down apartment have been careful, too. From every pot and plate, they must have scraped off their leftover sighs and hidden them somewhere unreachable. So Big Lady can’t get to them. So she can be saved from bursting.

Every night, no big bang really, but Rica listens anyway.

The house is quiet again. She breathes easier, lifting the sheets slowly from her face – a brow just unfurrowing, but eyes still wary and a mouth forming the old silent question – are you really there? She turns on the lamp. It’s girlie kitsch like the rest of the decor, from the dancing lady wallpaper to the row of Barbie dolls on a roseate plastic table. The tiny room is all pink bravado, hoping to compensate for the warped ceiling and stained floor. Even the unhinged window flaunts a family of pink paper rabbits.

Are you there?

Her father says she never shows herself to anyone. Big Lady only comes when you’re asleep to eat your sadness. She goes from house to house and eats the sadness of everyone, so she gets too fat. But there’s a lot of sadness in many houses, it just keeps on growing each day, so she can’t stop eating, and she can’t stop growing too.

Are you really that bid? How do you wear your hair?

Dios ko, if she eats all our mess, Rica, she might grow too fat and burst, so be a good girl and save her by not being sad – hoy, stop whimpering, I said, and go to bed. Her father is not always patient with his storytelling.

All quiet now. She’s gone.

Since Rica was three, when her father told her about Big Lady just after her mother left for Paris, she was always listening intently to all the night – noises from the kitchen. No, that sound is not the scurrying of mice – she’s actually checking the plates now, lifting the lid off the rice pot, peeking into cups for sadness, both overt and unspoken. To Rica, it always tastes salty, like tears, even her father’s funny look each time she asks him to read her again the letters from Paris.

She has three boxes of them, one for each year, though the third box is not even half – full. All of them tied with Paris ribbons. The first year, her mother sent all colours of the rainbow for her long, unruly hair, maybe because her father did not know how to make it more graceful. He must have written her long letters, asking about how to pull the mass of curls away from the face and tie them neatly the way he gathered, into some semblance of order, his own nightly longings.

It took some time for him to perfect the art of making a pony – tail. Then he discovered a trick unknown to even the best hairdressers. Instead of twisting the bunch of hair to make sure it does not come undone before it’s tied, one can rotate the whole body. Rica simply had to turn around in place, while her father held the gathered hair above her head. Just like dancing, really.

She never forgets, talaga naman, the aunties whisper among themselves these days. A remarkable child. She was only a little thing then, but she noticed all, didn’t she, never missed anything, committed even details to memory. A very smart kid, but too serious, a sad kid.

They must have guessed that, recently, she has cheated on her promise to behave and save Big Lady. But only on nights when her father comes home late and drunk, and refuses to read the old letters from Paris – indeed, she has been a very good girl. She’s six and grown up now, so, even if his refusal has multiplied beyond her ten fingers, she always makes sure that her nightly tears remained small and few. Like tonight, when she hoped her father would come home early, as he promised again. Earlier, Rica watched TV to forget, to make sure the tears won’t amount to a mouthful. She hates waiting. Big Lady hates that, too, because then she’ll have to clean up till the early hours of the morning.

Why Paris? Why three years – and even more? Aba, this is getting too much now. The aunties never agree with her mother’s decision to work there, on a fake visa, as a domestic helper – ay naku, taking care of other people’s children, while, across the ocean, her own baby cries herself to sleep? Talaga naman! She wants to earn good money and build us a house. Remember, I only work in a factory... Her father had always defended his wife, until recently, when all talk about her return was shelved. It seems she must extend her stay, because her employer might help her to become “legal.” Then she can come home for a visit and go back there to work some more –

The lid clatters off the pot. Beneath her room, the kitchen is stirring again. Rica sits up on the bed – the big one has returned? But she made sure the pot and plates were clean, even the cups, before she went to bed. She turns off the lamp to listen in the dark. Expectant ears, hungry for the phone’s overseas beep. Her mother used to call each month and write her postcards, also long love letters, even if she couldn’t read yet. With happy snaps, of course. Earlier this year, she sent one of herself and the new baby of her employer.

Cutlery noise. Does she also check them? This has never happened before, her coming back after a lean meal. Perhaps, she’s licking a spoon for any trace of saltiness, searching between the prongs of a fork. Unknown to Rica, Big Lady is wise, an old hand in this business. She senses that there’s more to a mouthful of sadness than meets the tongue. A whisper of salt, even the smallest nudge to the palate, can betray a century of hidden grief. Perhaps, she understands that, for all its practice, humanity can never conceal the daily act of futility at the dinner table. As we feed continually, we also acknowledge the perennial nature of our hunger. Each time we bring food to our mouths, the gut – emptiness that we attempt to fill inevitably contaminates our cutlery, plates, cups, glasses, our whole table. It is this residual contamination, our individual portions of grief, that she eats, so we do not die from them – but what if we don’t eat? Then we can claim self – sufficiency, a fullness from birth, perhaps. Then we won’t betray our hunger.

But Rica was not philosophical at four years old, when she had to be cajoled, tricked, ordered, then scolded severely before she finished her meal, if she touched it at all. Rica understood her occasional hunger strikes quite simply. She knew that these dinner quarrels with her father, and sometimes her aunties, ensured dire consequences. Each following day, she always made stick drawings of Big Lady with an ever – increasing girth, as she was sure the lady had had a big meal the night before.

Mouth curved downward, she’s sad like her meals. No, she wears a smile, she’s happy because she’s always full. Sharp eyes, they can see in the dark, light – bulb eyes, and big teeth for chewing forever. She can hardly walk, because her belly’s so heavy, she’s pregnant with leftovers. No, she doesn’t walk, she flies like a giant cloud and she’s not heavy at all, she only looks heavy. And she doesn’t want us to be sad, so she eats all our tears and sighs. But she can’t starve, can she? Of course, she likes sadness, it’s food.

Fascination, fear and a kinship drawn from trying to save each other. Big Lady saves Rica from sadness; Rica saves Big Lady from bursting by not being sad. An ambivalent relationship, confusing, but certainly a source of comfort. And always Big Lady as object of attention. Those days when Rica drew stick – drawings of her, she made sure the big one was always adorned with pretty baubles and make – up. She even drew her with a Paris ribbon to tighten her belly. Then she added a chic hat to complete the picture.

Crimson velvet with a black satin bow. Quite a change from all the girlie kitsch – that her mother had dredged from Paris’ unfashionable side of town? The day it arrived in the mail, Rica was about to turn six. A perfect Parisienne winter hat for a tiny head in the tropics. It came with a bank – draft for her party.

She did not try it on, it looked strange, so different from the Barbies and pink paper rabbits. This latest gift was unlike her mother, something was missing. Rica turned it inside out, searching – on TV, Magic Man can easily pull a rabbit or a dove out of his hat, just like that, always. But this tale was not part of her father’s repertoire. He told her not to be silly when she asked him to be Magic Man and pull out Paris – but can she eat as far as Paris? Can she fly from here to there overnight? Are their rice pots also full of sad leftovers? How salty?

Nowadays, her father makes sure he comes home late each night, so he won’t have to answer the questions, especially about the baby in the photograph. So he need not to improvise further on his three – year – old tall tale.

There it is again, the cutlery clunking against a plate – or scraping the bottom of a cup? She’s searching for the hidden mouthfuls and platefuls and potfuls. Cupboards are opened. No, nothing there, big one, nothing – Rica’s eyes are glued shut. The sheets rise and fall with her breathing. She wants to leave the bed, sneak into the kitchen and check out this most unusual return and thoroughness.

That’s the rice pot being overturned –

Her breaths make and unmake a hillock on the streets –

A plate shatters on the floor –

Back to a foetal curl, knees almost brushing chin –

Another plate crushes –

She screams –

The pot is hurled against the wall –

She keeps screaming as she ruins out of the room, down to the kitchen –

And the cutlery, glasses, cups, more plates –

Big Lady’s angry, Big Lady’s hungry, Big Lady’s turning the house upside down –

Breaking it everywhere –

Her throat is weaving sound, as if it were all that it never knew –

“SHUT UP – !”

Big Lady wants to break all to get to the heart of the matter, where it’s the saltiest. In the vein of a plate, within the aluminium bottom of a pot, in the copper fold of a spoon, deep in the curve of a cup’s handle –

Ropes and ropes of scream –


Her cheek stings. She collapses on the floor before his feet.

“I didn’t mean to, Dios ko po, I never meant to –“

Her dazed eyes make out the broken plates, the dented pot, the shards of cups, glasses, the cutlery everywhere –

He’s hiccupping drunkenly all over her –

“I didn’t mean to, Rica, I love you, baby, I’ll never let you go –“ His voice is hoarse with anger and remorse.

“She came back, Papa –“

“She can’t take you away from me –“

“She’s here again –“

“Just because she’s ‘legal’ now –“

“She might burst, Papa –“

“That whore - !” His hands curl into fists on her back.

Big Lady knows, has always known. This feast will last her a lifetime, if she does not burst tonight.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

Mill of the Gods (Estrella Alfon)

Among us who lived in Espeleta – that street that I love, about whose people I keep telling tales – among us, I say, there was one named Martha, and she was the daughter of Pio and Engracia.

To all of us, life must seem like a road given us to travel, and it is up to Fate, that convenient blunderer, whether, that road be broad and unwinding, or whether it shall be a tortuous lane, its path a hard and twisted mat of dust and stones. And each road, whether lane or avenue, shall have its own landmarks, that only the traveller soul shall recognize and remember, and remembering, continue the journey again. To Martha, the gods gave this for a first memory: a first scar.

She was a girl of twelve, and in every way she was but a child. A rather dull child, who always lagged behind the others of her age, whether in study or in play. Life had been so far a question of staying more years in a grade than the others, of being told she would have to apply herself a little harder if she didn’t want the infants catching up with her. But that was so dismal thing. She had gotten a little bit used to being always behind. To always being the biggest girl in her class. Even in play there was some part of her that never managed to take too great a part – she was so content if they always made her “it” in a game of tag, if only they would let her play. And when she had dolls, she was eager to lend them to other girls, if they would only include her in the fascinating games she could not play alone.

This was she, then. Her hair hung in pigtails each side of her face, and already it irked a little to have her dresses too short. She could not help in her mother’s kitchen, and could be trusted to keep her room clean, but she was not ready for the thing her mother told her one night when she was awakened from sleep.

It was a sleep untroubled by dreams, then all of a sudden there was an uproar in the house, and she could hear her mother’s frenzied sobbing, and it was not sobbing that held as much of sorrow as it did of anger. She lay still for a while, thinking perhaps she was dreaming, until she could hear her father’s grunted answers to the half – understood things her mother was mouthing at him. Then there were sounds that was clearly the sound of two bodies struggling in terrible fury with each other. She stood up, and like a child, cried into the night. Mother?

She wailed the word, in her panic finding a little relief in her own wailing, Mother? And she heard her mother’s voice call her, panting out, saying, Martha, come quickly, come into this room!

Martha got up and stood at the door of the room, hesitating about opening it, until her mother, the part of a terrible grasp, said Martha! So Martha pushed in the door, and found her mother and her father locked in an embrace in which both of them struggled and panted and had almost no breath left for words. Martha stood wide – eyed and frightened, not knowing what to do, just standing there, even though she had seen what it was they struggled for. A kitchen knife, blade held upwards in her mother’s hand. Her arms were pinioned to her sides by her husband, but her wild eyes, the frenzy with which she stamped her feet on his feet, and kicked him in the shins, and tried to bite him with her teeth, these were more terrible than the glint of that shining blade. It was her father who spoke to her saying urgently, Martha, reach for her knife, take it away. Yet Martha stood there and did not comprehend until her mother spoke, saying No, no; Martha, your father deserves to be killed. Then it was Martha who realized what she was to do, and slowly, hesitantly, she went near them, her fear of both of them in this terrible anger they now presented making her almost too afraid to reach up for the knife. But reach up she did, and with her child’s fingers, put her mother’s away from the weapon. And when she had it in her hands she did not know what to do with it, except look at it. It wasn’t a very sharp knife, but its blade was clean, and its hilt firm. And so she looked at it, until her father said. Throw it out of the window, Martha and without thinking, she went to a window, opened a casement and threw it away.

Then her father released her mother, and once her mother had gotten her arms free, she swung back her hand, and wordlessly, slapped him; slapped him once, twice, three times, alternating with her hands, on alternate cheeks, until her father said. That’s enough, Engracia. And saying so, he took her hands in his, led her resisting to the bed, and made her sit down.

And Martha was too young to wonder that her father, who was a big man, should have surrendered to the repeated slapping from her mother who was a very small frail woman.

Her father said, “Aren’t you ashamed now Martha has seen?”

And immediately her mother screamed to him, “Ashamed? Me, ashamed? I’ll tell Martha about you!”

Her father looked at Martha still standing dumbly by the window out of which she had thrown the knife, and said, “No, Aciang, she is just a child.” And to her: “Martha, go back to bed.”

But now her mother jumped up from the bed, and clutched at Martha, and brought her to bed with her. And deliberately without looking at Martha’s father, she said, Martha you are not too young to know. And so, the words falling from her lips with a terrible quiet, she told Martha. The words that were strange to her ears, Martha heard them, and listened to them, and looked from her mother to her father, and without knowing it, wetting her cheeks with her tears that fell. And then her mother stopped talking, and looking at her husband, she spat on him, and Martha saw the saliva spatter on the front of the dark shirt he wore. She watched while her father strode over them, and slowly, also deliberately, slapped her mother on the cheek. Martha watched his open palm as he did it, and felt the blow as though it had been she who had been hit. Then her father strode out of the room, saying nothing, leaving them alone.

When her father had gone, Martha’s mother began to cry, saying brokenly to Martha, “It is that woman, that woman!” And making excuses to Martha for her father, saying it was never completely the man’s fault. And Martha listened bewildered, because this was so different from the venomous words her mother had told her while her father was in the room. And then her mother, still weeping, directed her to look for her father and Martha went out of the room.

Her father was not in the house. The night was very dark as she peered out of the windows to see is she could find him outside, but he was nowhere. So she went back to her mother, and told her she could not find her father. Her mother cried silently, the tears coursing down her cheeks, and her sobs tearing through her throat. Martha cried with her, and caressed her mother’s back with her hands, but she had no words to offer, nothing to say. When her mother at last was able to talk again, she told Martha to go back to bed. But it wasn’t the child that entered who went out of that room.

And yet the terror of that night was not so great because it was only a terror half – understood. It wasn’t until she was eighteen, that the hurt of that night was invested with its full measure. For when she was eighteen, she fell in love. She was a girl of placid appearance, in her eyes the dreaming stolid night of the unawakened. She still was slow to learn, still not prone to brilliance. And when she fell in love she chose the brightest boy of her limited acquaintance to fall in love with. He was slightly older than herself, a little too handsome, a trifle too given to laughter. Espeleta did not like him; he was too different from the other young me n on the street. But Martha loved him. You could see that in the way she looked at him, the way she listened to him.

Martha’s pigtails had lengthened. She now wore her braids coiled on the top of her head like a coronet, and it went well with the placid features, the rather full figure. She was easily one of our prettier maidens. It was well that she was not too brilliant. That she did not have any too modern ideas. The air of shyness, the awkward lack of sparkling conversation suited her Madonna – like face and calm. And her seriousness with love was also part of the calm waiting nature. It did not enter her head that there are such things as play, and a game. And a man’s eagerness for sport. And so when she noticed that his attentions seemed to be wandering, even after he had admitted to a lot of people that they were engaged, she asked him, with the eager desperation of the inexperienced, about their marriage.

He laughed at her. Laughed gently, teasingly, saying they could not get married for a long time yet; he must repay his parents first for all that they had done for him. He must first be sure to be able to afford the things she deserved. Well turned phrases he said his excuses with. Charming little evasions. And if she did not see through them while he spoke them, his frequent absences, where his visits had been as a habit; his excuses to stay away when once no amount of sending him off could make him stay away; these but made her see. And understand.

And then the way neighbours will, they tried to be kind to her. For they could see her heart was breaking and they tried to say sweet things to her, things like her being far too good for him. And then they heard that he had married. Another girl. And they saw her grief, and thought it strange that a girl should grieve over an undeserving lover or so. She lost a little of the plumpness that was one of her charms. And into her eyes crept a hurt look to replace the dreaming. And Espeleta, with all the good people, strove to be even kinder to her. Watched her grief and pitied her. And told her that whatever mistakes she had committed to make her grieve so, to make her suffer so, they understood and forgave. And they did not blame her. But now that she had learned her lesson, she must beware. She knew her own father as much as they knew about him. And it was in the Fates that his sins must be paid for. If not by himself, then by whom but she who was begotten by him? So, didn’t she see? How careful she should be? Because you could, they said it to her gently, kindly, cruelly, because she could if she were careful, turn aside the vengeance of the implacable fates. And she believed them kind although she hated their suspicions. She believed them kind, and so she started, then, to hate her father. And that night long ago came back to her, and she wished she had not thrown that knife away.

Espeleta saw Martha turn religious. More religious than Iya Andia and Iya Nesia, who were old and saw death coming close, and wanted to be assured of the easing of the gates of heaven. Espeleta approved. Because Espeleta did not know what she prayed for. Because they saw only the downcast eyes under the light veil, the coil of shining hair as it bowed over the communion rail.

Yet Martha’s mother and father still lived together. They never had separated. Even after that night, when she was twelve years old and frightened, and she had called for him and looked for him and not found him. The next day he had come back, and between her mother and him there was a silence. They slept in the same bed, and spent the nights in the same room, and yet Martha and Espeleta knew he had another bed, another chamber. Espeleta praised Martha’s mother for being so patient. After Martha had fallen in love, when she began hating her father truly then also she began despising her mother.

You did not know it to look at Martha. For her coil of braided hair was still there, and the shy way of speaking, and the charming awkwardness at conversation. And Martha made up her earlier lack of lustre by shining in her class now. She was eighteen and not through high school yet. But she made up for it by graduating with high honours. Espeleta clapped its hands when she graduated. Gave her flowers. Her mother and father were there, too. And they were proud. And to look at Martha, you would think she was proud too, if a little too shy still.

Martha studied nursing. And started having visitors in her mother’s house again. Doctors this time. Older men, to whom her gravity of manner appealed, and the innate good sense that seemed so patient in her quiet demeanour. Espeleta was now rather proud of Martha. She seemed everything a girl should be, and they cited her as an example of what religion could do. Lift you out of the shadow of your inheritance. For look at Martha. See how different she is from what should be her father’s daughter.

But what they did not know was that all of these doctors Martha had to choose someone slightly older than the rest. And where the girl of eighteen that she had been almost a child unschooled, now she was a woman wise and wary. Where the other nurses knew this doctor only as someone who did not like their dances as much as the younger ones, who did not speak as lightly, as flippantly of love as the younger ones, Martha knew why he didn’t.

Between the two of them there had been, form the very start, a quick lifting of the pulse, an immediate quickening of the breath. From the very start. And where he could have concealed the secrets of life, he chose the very first time they were able to talk to each other, to tell her that he was not free. He had a wife, and whether he loved her or not, whether she was unfaithful to him or not, which she was, there had been the irrevocable ceremony to bind them, to always make his love for any other woman, if he ever fell in love again, something that must be hidden, something that might not see light.

She was a woman now, Martha was. Wise and wary. But there is no wisdom, no weariness against love. Not the kind of deep love she knew she bore him. And as even she him, she found within herself the old deep – abiding secret hate. Against her father. Against the laws of man and church. Against the very fates that seemed rejoiced in making her pay for a sin she had not committed. She now learned of bitterness. Because she could not help thinking of that night, long ago, when her mother had sat on the bed, and in deliberate words told her just what kind of a father she had. It had been as though her mother had shifted on to her unwilling, unready shoulders the burden of the sorrows, the goad of the grief.

Espeleta, that was so quick to censure, and to condemn; even Espeleta had taken the situation in Martha’s house as something that could not be helped. And as long as there was no open strife, Espeleta made excuses for a thing that, they said, had been designed by Fate. Martha’s father came home. Acted, on the surface, the good husband. And since he was married to Martha’s mother, so must Martha’s mother bear it, and welcome him home again. Because she would rather he came home, then went to the other one, wouldn’t she? Espeleta cited heavenly rewards. For Martha’s mother. And Martha went to church regularly, and was a good nurse. And still called her father, Father.

You have heard that one of course, about the mill of the gods, how they “grind exceedingly fine, and grind exceedingly slow.” Espeleta hadn’t heard that one, nor had Martha. But Espeleta of course would have a more winded version of it. Anyhow, one day at the hospital, Martha was attendant nurse at an emergency case. A man had been shot. There were three bullets through his chest, but he was still alive. Martha laughed queerly to herself, saying I must be dreaming, I am imagining that man has my father’s face.

It was the doctor she loved who was in charge. With a queer dreaming feeling, she raised her eyes to meet his, and was shocked to see him drop his gaze, and over his face steal a twist as of pain, as of pity. They were instantly their efficient selves again, cloaking themselves in the impersonal masks of physician and nurse. It was as if he who lay there beneath their instruments and their probing fingers was any man, the way it could be any man. Not her father. But all while, training and discipline unavailing. Martha said to herself, but it is my father.

He died on the table. He never gained consciousness. Martha drew the sheet over his face and form. And watched as they wheeled him out of the room. She still had the instruments to put away and the room to put in order. But this did not take long and when she went out into the corridor, she found her mother weeping beside the shrouded form on the wheeled table. There was a policeman beside her awkwardly trying with gruff words to console the little woman over her loss. Beside the policeman stood also the doctor, who passed an arm around the shoulder of Martha’s mother, saying simply, we tried to save him.

Martha joined them, knowing that she should be in tears, yet finding that she had none to shed. It would ease the tightness within her, would loosen the hard knot in her heart to cry. But you cannot summon tears when you feel no grief, and the pain you feel is not of sorrow but of the cruel justness of things. She could not even put her arms around her weeping mother. When the doctor told her that she would be excused from duty the rest of the day, that he would arrange it for her, she did not thank him. She did not say anything for indeed she no longer had any words, nor any emotions that required speech. Or should be given speech. For one cannot say, how right! How just! When one’s father has just died.

Her mother and she took a taxi together to accompany the hearse that took her father home. There was a crowd awaiting them. Espeleta in tears. Espeleta crying condolence and opprobrium in the same breath. It was from them – their good neighbours, their kind neighbours – that Martha learned how “God’s justice had overtaken the sinner.”

Colon is not as intimate as Espeleta. For it is a long street and broad street. But where the railroad crosses it, the houses group together in intimate warmth and neighbourly closeness and its families live each other’s lives almost as meddlingly as Espeleta does. And is as avid for scandals as Espeleta is. Among the people in Martha’s house were some from Colon. And it was they who supplied the grimmer details, the more lucid picture.

In that other woman’s house – and Martha did not even know the other woman’s name there had existed the stalemate state of affairs that had existed in Martha’s house. Only where in Martha’s house it had been a wife who was patient, in that other woman’s house it had been the husband who had bided his time. And yet the neighbours had thought he had not cared. For indeed he had seemed like a man blind and deaf, and if he raised his voice against his wife, it was not so they could hear it. Yet today, he had come home, after he had said he was going away somewhere. And had come upon Martha’s father in the house, and had, without saying anything, taken out his revolver, and shot at him.

Martha heard all these. And thought you know often life seems like an old – fashioned melodrama, guns and all. And yet the gun had not gone off. It had jammed, and Martha’s father had been able to run. And running, even as he seemed far enough from the house to be safe, the gun in the husband’s hand had come right again. The man had gone out in the street, aimed at the fleeing figure. That explained why the bullets had gone in through his back and out through his chest. They said that the street was spattered with blood and where he fell, there was a pool of gory red. The killer had surrendered himself at once. But everyone knew he would not pay with his life he had taken. For the woman was his wife and he had come upon them in his own home.

Martha stayed with the kind condolers only a while. She left her mother for them to comfort as best as they could. They would have praises like “The good God knows best;” they would have words like, “Your grief is ended, let your other grief commence.” She went to look at her father lying well arranged now in his bier. Already in spite of the manner of his death, there were flowers for him. Death had left no glare in the eyes that the doctor at the hospital had mercifully closed, over the features lingered no evidence of pain. And Martha said, Death was kind to you.

In Martha’s room there hung a crucifix. Upon the crossed wood was the agonized Christ, His eyes soft and deep and tender, even in his agony. But as Martha knelt, and lighted her candles, and prayed, in her eyes was no softness, and on her lips no words appealing for pity for him who had died. There was only the glitter of a justice meted out at last, and the thankfulness for a punishment fulfilled. So she gave thanks, very fervent thanks. For now, she hoped, she would cease to pay.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

May Day Eve (Nick Joaquin)

The old people had ordered that the dancing should stop at ten o’clock but it was almost midnight before the carriages came lining up to the front door, the servants running to and fro with torches to light the departing guests, while the girls who were staying were promptly herded upstairs to the bedrooms, the young men gathering around to wish them a good night and lamenting their ascent with mock signs and moanings, proclaiming themselves disconsolate but drunk already and simply bursting with wild spirits, merriment, arrogance and audacity, for they were young bucks newly arrived from Europe; the ball had been in their honor; and they had waltzed and polka – ed and bragged and swaggered and flirted all night and were in no mood to sleep yet – no, caramba, not on this moist tropic eve! Not on this mystic May eve! – with the night still young and so seductive that it was madness not to go out, not to go forth – and serenade the neighbours! cried one; and swim in the Pasig! cried another; and gather fireflies! cried a third – whereupon there arose a great clamour for coats and capes, for hats and canes, and they were presently stumbling out among the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street – lamps flickered and a last carriage rattled away upon the cobbles while the blind black houses muttered hush – hush, their tile roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wile sky murky with clouds, save where an evil young moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable childhood fragrances of ripe guavas to the young men trooping so uproariously down the street that the girls who were disrobing upstairs in the bedrooms scattered screaming to the windows, crowded giggling at the windows, but were soon sighing amorously over those young men bawling below; over those wicked young men and their handsome apparel, their proud flashing eyes, and their elegant moustaches so black and vivid in the moonlight that the girls were quite ravished with love, and began crying to one another how carefree were men but how awful to be a girl and what a horrid, and chased them off to bed – while from up the street came the clackety – clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang – clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, “Guardia sereno – o – o! A las doce han dado – o – o.”

And it was May again, said the old Anastasia. It was the first day of May and witches were abroad in the night, she said – for it was a night of divination, a night of flowers, and those who cared might peer in a mirror and would there behold the face of whoever it was they were fated to marry, said the old Anastasia as she hobbled about picking up the piled crinolines and folding up shawls and raking slippers to a corner while the girls climbing into the four great poster beds that overwhelmed the room began shrieking with terror, scrambling over each other and imploring the old woman not to frighten them.

“Enough, enough, Anastasia! We want to sleep!”

“Go scare the boys instead, you old witch!”

“She is not a witch, she is a maga. She was born on Christmas Eve!”

“St. Anastasia, virgin and martyr.”

“Huh? Impossible! She has conquered seven husbands! Are you a virgin, Anastasia?”

“No, but I am seven times a martyr because of you girls!”

“Let her prophesy, let her prophesy! Whom will I marry, old gypsy? Come, tell me.”

“You may learn in a mirror if you are not afraid.”

“I am not afraid, I will go,” cried the young cousin Agueda, jumping up in bed.

“Girls, girls – we are making too much noise! My mother will hear and will come and pinch us all. Agueda, lie down! And you Anastasia, I command you to shut your mouth and go away!”

“Your mother told me to stay here all night, my grandlady!”

“And I will not lie down!” cried the rebellious Agueda, leaping to the floor. “Stay, old woman. Tell me what I have to do.”

“Tell her! Tell her!” chimed the other girls.

The old woman dropped the clothes she had gathered and approached and fixed her eyes on the girl. “You must take a candle,” she instructed, “and go into a room that is dark and that has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and say:

Mirror, mirror,
Show to me
Him whose woman
I will be.

If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry.”

A silence. Then: “And what if all does not go right?” asked Agueda.

“Ah, then the Lord have mercy on you!”


Because you may see – the Devil!”

The girls screamed and clutched one another, shivering.

“But what nonsense!” cried Agueda. “This is year 1847. There are no devils anymore!” Nevertheless she had turned pale. “But where could I go, huh? Yes, I know! Down to the sala. It has that big mirror and no one is there now.”

“No, Agueda, no! It is a mortal sin! You will see the devil!”

“I do not care! I am not afraid! I will go!”

“Oh, you wicked girl! Oh, you mad girl!”

“If you do not come to bed, Agueda, I will call my mother.”

“And if you do I will tell her who came to visit you at the convent last March. Come, old woman – give me that candle. I go.”

“Oh girls – come and stop her! Take hold of her! Block the door!”

But Agueda had already slipped outside; was already tiptoeing across the hall; her feet bare and her dark hair falling down her shoulders and streaming in the wind as she fled down the stairs, the lighted candle sputtering in one hand while with the other she pulled up her white gown from her ankles.

She paused breathless in the doorway to the sala and her heart failed her. She tried to imagine the room filled again with lights, laughter, whirling couples, and the jolly jerky music of the fiddlers. But, oh, it was a dark den, a weird cavern, for the windows had been closed and the furniture stacked up against the walls. She crossed herself and stepped inside.

The mirror hung on the wall before her; a big antique mirror with a gold frame carved into leaves and flowers and mysterious curlicues. She saw herself approaching fearfully in it; a small white ghost that the darkness bodied forth – but not willingly, not completely, for her eyes and hair were so dark that the face approaching in the mirror seemed only a mask that floated forward; a bright mask with two holes gaping in it, blown forward by the white cloud of her gown. But when she stood before the mirror she lifted the candle level with her chin and the dead mask bloomed into her living face.

She closed her eyes and whispered the incantation. When she had finished such a terror took hold of her that she felt unable to move, unable to open her eyes and thought she would stand there forever, enchanted. But she heard a step behind her, and a smothered giggle, and instantly opened her eyes.

“And what did you see, Mama? Oh, what was it?”

But Dona Agueda had forgotten the little girl on her lap: she was staring pass the curly head nestling at her breast and seeing herself in the big mirror hanging in the room. It was the same room and the same mirror but the face she now saw in it was an old face – a hard, bitter, vengeful face, like a white mask, that fresh young face like a pure mask than she had brought before this mirror one wild May Day midnight ten years ago...

“But what was it Mama? Oh please go on! What did you see?”

Dona Agueda looked down at her daughter but her face, did not soften though her eyes filled with tears. “I saw the devil,” she said bitterly.

The child blanched. “The devil, Mama? Oh... Oh...”

“Yes my love. I opened my eyes and there in the mirror, smiling at me over my left shoulder, was the face of the devil.”

“Oh, my poor little Mama! And were you very frightened?”

“You can imagine. And that is why good little girls do not look into mirrors except when their mothers tell them. You must stop this naughty habit, darling, of admiring yourself in every mirror you pass – or you may see something frightful some day.”

“But the devil, Mama – what did he look like?”

“Well, let me see... he has curly hair and a scar on his cheek –“

“Like the scar of Papa?”

“Well, yes. But this of the devil was a scar of sin, while that of your Papa is a scar of honour. Or so he says.”

“Go on about the devil.”

“Well, he had mustaches.”

“Like those of Papa?”

“Oh, no. Those of your Papa are dirty and graying and smell horribly of tobacco, while these of the devil were very black and elegant – oh, how elegant!”

“And did he have horns and tail?”

The mother’s lips curled. “Yes, he did! But, alas, I could not see them at that time. All I could see were his fine clothes, his flashing eyes, his curly hair, and moustaches.”

“And did he speak to you, Mama?”

“Yes... Yes, he spoke to me,” said Dona Agueda. And bowing her graying head, she wept.

“Charms like yours have no need for a candle, fair one,” he had said, smiling her in the mirror and stepping back to give her a low mocking bow. She had whirled around and glared at him and he had burst into laughter.

“But I remember you!” he cried. “You are Agueda, whom I left a mere infant and came home to find a tremendous beauty, and I danced a waltz with you but you would not give me the polka.”

“Let me pass,” she muttered fiercely, for he was barring her the way.

“But I want to dance the polka with you, fair one,” he said.

So they stood before the mirror; their panting breath the only sound in the dark room; the candle shining between them and flinging their shadows to the wall. And young Badoy Montiya (who had crept home very drunk to pass out quietly in bed) suddenly found himself cold sober and very much awake and ready for anything. His eyes sparkled and the scar on his face gleamed scarlet.

“Let me pass!” she cried again, in a voice of fury, but he grasped her by the wrist.

“No,” he smiled. “Not until we have danced.”

“Go to the devil!”

“What a temper has my serrana!”

“I am not your serrana!”

“Whose, then? Someone I know? Someone I have offended grievously? Because you treat me, you treat all my friends like your mortal enemies.”

“And why not?” she demanded, jerking her wrist away and flashing her teeth in his face. “Oh, how I detest you, you pompous young men! You go to Europe and you come back elegant lords and we poor girls are too tame to please you. We have no grace like the Parisiennes, we have no fire like the Sevillians, and we have no salt, no salt, no salt! Aie, how you weary me, how you bore me, you fastidious young men!”

“Come, come – how do you know about us?”

“I heard you talking, I have heard you talking among yourselves, and I despise the pack of you!”

“But clearly you do not despise yourself, senorita. You come to admire your charms in the mirror even in the middle of the night!”

She turned livid and he had a malicious satisfaction.

“I was not admiring myself, sir!”

“You were admiring the moon perhaps?”

“Oh!” she gasped, and burst into tears. The candle dropped from her hand and she covered her face and sobbed piteously. The candle had gone out and they stood in darkness, and young Badoy was conscience – stricken.

“Oh, do not cry, little one! Oh, please forgive me! Please do not cry! But what a brute I am! I was drunk, little one, I was drunk and knew not what I said.”

He groped and found her hand and touched it to his lips. She shuddered in her white gown.

“Let me go,” she moaned, and tugged feebly.

“No. Say you forgive me first. Say you forgive me, Agueda.”

But instead she pulled his hand to her mouth and bit it – bit so sharply into the knuckles that he cried with pain and lashed out with his other hand – lashed out and hit the air, for she was gone, she had fled, and he heard the rustling of her skirts up the stairs as he furiously sucked his bleeding fingers.

Cruel thoughts raced through his head: he would go and tell his mother and make her turn the savage girl out of the house – or he would himself to the girl’s room and drag her out of bed and slap, slap, slap her silly face! But at the same time he was thinking that they were all going up to Antipolo in the morning and was already planning how he would manoeuvre himself into the same boat with her.

Oh, he would have his revenge, he would make her pay, that little harlot! She should suffer for this, he thought greedily, licking his bleeding knuckles. But – Judas! – what eyes she had! And what a pretty colour she turned when angry! He remembered her bare shoulders: gold in the candlelight and delicately furred. He saw the mobile insolence of her neck, and her taunt breasts steady in the fluid no fire or grace? And no salt? An arroba she had of it!

“... No lack of salt in the chrism
At the moment of thy baptism!”

He sang aloud in the dark room and suddenly realized that he had fallen madly in love with her. He ached intensely to see her again – at once! – to touch her hands and her hair; to hear her harsh voice. He ran to the window and flung open the casements and the beauty of the night struck him back like a blow. It was May, it was summer, and he was young – young! – and deliriously in love. Such a happiness welled up within him that the tears spurted from his eyes.

But he did not forgive her – no! He would still make her pay, he would still have his revenge, he thought viciously, and kissed his wounded fingers. But what a night it had been! “I will never forget this night!” he thought aloud in an awed voice, standing by the window in the dark room, the tears in his eyes and the wind in his hair and his bleeding knuckles pressed to his mouth.

But, alas, the heart forgets; the heart is distracted; and May – time passes; summer ends; the storms break over the rot – ripe orchards and the heart grows old; while the hours, the days, the months, and the years pile up and pile up, till the mind becomes too crowded. Too confused: dust gathers it; cobwebs multiply; the walls darken and fall into ruin and decay; the memory perishes... and there came when Don Badoy Montiya walked home through a May Day midnight without remembering, without even caring to remember; being merely concerned in feeling his way across the street with his cane; his eyes having grown quite dim and his legs uncertain – for he was old; he was over sixty; he was a very stooped and shrivelled old man with white hair and moustaches, coming home from a secret meeting of conspirators; his mind still resounding with the speeches and his patriot heart still exultant as he picked his way up the steps to the front door and inside into the slumbering darkness of the house; wholly unconscious of the May night, till on his way down the hall, chancing to glance into the sala, he shuddered, he stopped, his blood ran cold – for he had seen a face in the mirror there – a ghostly candlelit face with the eyes closed and the lips moving, a face that he suddenly felt he had seen there before though it was a full minute before the lost memory came flowing, came tiding back, so overflooding the actual moment and so swiftly washing away the piled hours and days and months and years that he was left suddenly young again; he was a gay young buck again, lately come from Europe; he had been dancing all night; he was very drunk; he stopped in the doorway; he saw a face in the dark; he cried out... and the lad standing before the mirror (for it was a lad in a night gown) jumped with fright and almost dropped his candle, but looking around and seeing the old man, laughed out with relief and came running.

“Oh Grandpa, how you frightened me!”

Don Badoy had turned very pale. “So it was you, you young bandit! And what is all this, hey? What are you doing down here at this hour?”

“Nothing, Grandpa. I was only... I am only...”

“Yes, you are the great Senor Only and how delighted I am to make your acquaintance, Senor Only! But if I break this cane on your head you may wish you were someone else, sir!”

“It was just foolishness, Grandpa. They told me I would see my wife.”

“Wife? What wife?”

“Mine. The boys at school said I would see her if I looked in a mirror tonight and said:

Mirror, mirror
Show to me
Her whose lover
I will be.”

Don Badoy cackled ruefully. He took the boy by the hair, pulled him along into the room, sat down on a chair, and drew the boy between his knees.

“Now, put your candle down on the floor, son, and let us talk this over. So you want your wife already, hey? You want to see her in advance, hey? But do you know that these are wicked games and that wicked boys who play them are in danger of seeing horrors?”

“Well, the boys did warn me I might see a witch instead.”

“Exactly! A witch so horrible you may die of fright. And she will bewitch you, she will torture you, she will eat your heart and drink your blood!”

“Oh, come now Grandpa. This is 1890. There are no witches anymore.”

“Oh – ho, my young Voltaire! And what if I tell you that I myself have seen a witch.”

“You? Where?”

“Right in this room and right in that mirror,” said the old man, and his playful voice had turned savage.

“When, Grandpa?”

“Not so long ago. When I was a bit older than you. Oh, I was a vain fellow and though I was feeling very sick that night and merely wanted to lie down somewhere and die. I could not pass that doorway of course without stopping to see in the mirror what I looked like when dying. But when I poked my head in what should I see in the mirror but... but...”

“The witch?”


“And did she bewitch you, Grandpa?”

“She bewitched me and she tortured me. She ate my heart and drank my blood,” said the old man bitterly.

“Oh, my poor little Grandpa! Why have you never told me! And she was very horrible?”

“Horrible? God, no – she was beautiful. She was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen! Her eyes were somewhat like yours but her hair was like black waters and her golden shoulders were bare. My God, she was enchanting! But I should have known – I should have known even then – the dark and fatal creature she was!”

A silence. Then: “What a horrid mirror this is, Grandpa,” whispered the boy.

“What makes you say that, hey?”

“Well, you saw this witch in it. And Mama once told me that Grandma once told her that Grandma once saw the devil in this mirror. Was is of the scare that Grandma died?”

Don Badoy stared. For a moment he had forgotten that she was dead, that she had perished – the poor Agueda; that they were at peace at last, the two of them, her tired body at rest; her broken body set free at last from the brutal pranks of the earth – from the trap of a May night; from the snare of a summer; from the terrible silver nets of the moon. She had been a mere heap of white hair and bones in the end: a whimpering withered consumptive, lashing out with her cruel tongue; her eyes like live coals; her face like ashes... Now, nothing – nothing save a name on a stone; save a stone in a graveyard – nothing! – nothing at all! All that was left of the young girl who had flamed so vividly in a mirror one wild May Day midnight, long, long ago.

And remembering how she had sobbed so piteously; remembering how she had bitten his hand and fled and how he had sung aloud in the dark moon and surprised hi heart in the instant of falling in love: such a grief tore up his throat and eyes that he felt ashamed before the boy; pushed the boy away; stood up and fumbled his way to the window, threw open the casements and looked out – looked out upon the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush – hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable Maytime memories of an old, old love to the old man shaking with sobs by the window; the bowed old man sobbing so bitterly at the window; the tears streaming down his cheeks and the wind in his hair and one hand pressed to his mouth – while from up the street came the clackety – clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang – clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll if his voice booming through the night: “Guardia sereno – o – o! A las doce han dado – o – o!”

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.

Mats (Francisco Arcellana)

For the Angeles family, Mr. Angeles’ homecoming from his periodic inspection trips was always an occasion for celebration. But his homecoming – from a trip to the South – was fated to be more memorable than any of the others.

He had written from Mariveles: “I have met a marvellous matweaver – a real artist – and I shall have a surprise for you. I asked him to weave a sleeping – mat for evry one in the family. He is using many different tools and for each mat the dominant colour is that of our respective birthstones. I am sure that the children will be very pleased. I know you will be. I can hardly wait to show them to you.”

Nana Emilia read the letter that morning, and again and again every time she had a chance to leave the kitchen. In the evening, when all the children were home from school she had asked her oldest son, Jose, to read the letter at the dinner table. The children became very much excited about the mats, and talked about them until late into the night. This she wrote her husband when she laboured over a reply to him. For days after that the mats continued to be the chief topic of conversation among the children.

Finally, from Lopez, Mr. Angeles wrote again: “I am taking the Bicol Express tomorrow. I have the mats with me, and they are beautiful. God willing, I shall be home to join you at dinner.”

The letter was read aloud during the noon meal. Talk about the mats flared up again like wildfire.

“I like the feel of mats,” Antonio, the third child, said. “I like the smell of new mats.” “Oh, but these mats are different,” interposed Susanna, the fifth child. “They have our names woven into them, and in our ascribed colours, too.”

The children knew what they were talking about: they knew just what a decorative mat was like; it was not anything new or strange in their experience. That was why they were so excited about the matter. They had such a mat in the house, one they seldom used, a mat older than any of them.

This mat had been given to Nana Emilia by her mother when she and Mr. Angeles were married, and it had been with them ever since. It had served on the wedding night, and had not since been used except on special occasions.

It was a very beautiful mat, not really meant to be ordinarily used. It had green leaf borders, and a lot of gigantic red roses woven into it. In the middle, running the whole length of the mat, was the lettering:

Emilia y Jaime Recuerdo

The letters were in gold.

Nana Emilia always kept that mat in her trunk. When anyone of the family was taken ill, the mat was brought out and the patient slept on it, had it all to himself. Everyone of the children had sometime in his life slept on it; not a few had slept on it more than once.

Most of the time, the mat was kept in Nana Emilia’s trunk, and when it was taken out and spread on the floor the children were always around to watch. At first there had been only Nana Emilia and Mr. Angeles to see the mat spread. Then a child – a girl – watched with them. The number of watchers increased as more children came.

The mat did not seem to age. It seemed to Nana Emilia always as new as when it had been laid on the nuptial bed. To the children it seemed as new as the first time it was spread before them. The folds and creases seemed always new and fresh. The smell was always the smell of a new mat. Watching the intricate design was an endless joy. The children’s pleasure at the golden letters even before they could work out the meaning was boundless. Somehow they were always pleasantly shocked by the sight of the mat: so delicate and so consummate the artistry of its weave.

Now, taking out that mat to spread had become a kind of ritual. The process had become associated with illness in the family. Illness, even serious illness, had not been infrequent. There had been deaths...

In the evening Mr. Angeles was with his family. He had brought the usual things home with him. There was a lot of fruit, as always (his itinerary carried him through the fruit – growing provinces): pineapples, lanzones, chicos, atis, santol, sandia, guyabano, avocado, according to the season. He had also brought home a jar of preserved sweets from Lopez.

Putting away the fruit, sampling them, was as usual accomplished with animation and lively talk. Dinner was a long affair. Mr. Angeles was full of stories about his trip but would interrupt his tales with: “I could not sleep of nights thinking of the young ones. They should never be allowed to play in the streets. And you older ones should not stay out too late at night.”

The stories petered out and dinner was over. Putting away the dishes and wiping the dishes and wiping the table clean did not at all seem tedious. Yet Nana Emilia and the children, although they did not show it, were all on edge about the mats.

Finally, after a long time over his cigar, Mr. Angeles rose from his seat at the head of the table and crossed the room to the corner where his luggage had been piled. From the heap he disengaged a ponderous bundle. Taking it under one arm, he walked to the middle of the room where the light was brightest. He dropped the bundle and, bending over and balancing himself on his toes, he strained at the cord that bound it. It was strong, would not break, would not give way. He tried working at the knots. His fingers were clumsy, they had begun shaking. He raised his head, breathing heavily, to ask for the scissors. Alfonso, his youngest boy, was to one side of him with the scissors ready.

Nana Emilia and her eldest girl, who had long returned from the kitchen, were watching the proceedings quietly.

One swift movement with the scissors, snip! And the bundle was loose.

Turning to Nana Emilia, Mr. Angeles joyfully cried: “These are the mats, Miling.”

Mr. Angeles picked up the topmost mat in the bundle.

“This, I believe, is yours, Miling.”

Nana Emilia stepped forward to the light, wiping her still moist hands against the folds of her skirt, and with a strangely young shyness received the mat. The children watched the spectacle silently, and then broke into delighted, though a little conscious, laughter. Nana Emilia unfolded the mat without a word. It was a beautiful mat: to her mind, even more beautiful than the one she had received from her mother on her wedding day. There was a name in the very centre of it: EMILIA. The letters were large, done in green. Flowers – cadena – de – amor – were woven in and out among the letters. The border was a long winding twig of cadena – de – amor.

The children stood about the spread mat. The air was punctuated by their breathless exclamations of delight.

“It is beautiful, Jaime; it is beautiful!” Nana Emilia’s voice broke, and she could not say any more.

“And this, I know, is my own,” said Mr. Angeles of the next mat in the bundle. The mat was rather simply decorated, the design almost austere, and the only colours used were purple and gold. The letters of the name Jaime were in purple.

“And this is for you, Marcelina.”

Marcelina was the oldest child. She had always thought her name too long; it had been one of her worries with regard to the mat.”How on earth are they going to weave all of the letters of my name into my mat?” she had asked of almost everyone in the family. Now it delighted her to see her who name spelled out on the mat, even if the letters were a little small. Besides, there was a device above her name which pleased Marcelina very much. It was in the form of a lyre, finely done in three colours. Marcelina was a student of music and was quite a proficient pianist.

“And this is for you, Jose.”

Jose was the second child. He was a medical student already in the third year at medical school. Over his name the symbol of Aesculapius was woven into the mat.

“You are not to use this mat until the year of your internship,” Mr. Angeles was saying.

“This is yours, Antonio.”

“And this is yours, Juan.”

“And this is yours, Jesus.”

Mat after mat was unfolded. On each of the children’s mats there was somehow an appropriate an appropriate device.

At least all the children had been shown their individual mats. The air was filled with their excited talk, and through it all Mr. Angeles was saying over and over again in his deep voice:

“You are not to use this mats until you go to the University.”

Then Nana Emilia noticed bewilderingly that there were some more mats remaining to be unfolded.

“But Jaime,” Nana Emilia said, wonderingly, with evident trepidation, “there are some more mats.”

Only Mr. Angeles seemed to have heard Nana Emilia’s words. He suddenly stopped talking, as if he had been jerked away from a pleasant phantasy. A puzzled reminiscent look came into his eyes, superseding the deep and quiet delight that had been briefly there, and when he spoke, his voice was different.

“Yes, Emilia,” said Mr. Angeles, “There are three more mats to unfold. The others who aren’t here...”

Nana Emilia caught her breath; there was a swift constriction in her throat; her face paled and she could not say anything.

The self – centred talk of the children also died. There was a silence as Mr. Angeles picked up the first of the remaining mats and began slowly unfolding it.

The mat was almost as austere in design as Mr. Angeles’ own, and it had a name. There was no symbol or device above the name; only a blank space, emptiness.

The children knew the name. But somehow the name, the letters spelling the name, seemed strange to them.

The Nana Emilia found her voice.

“You know, Jaime, you didn’t have to,” Nana Emilia said, and her voice was hurt and sorely frightened.

Mr. Angeles jerked his back; there was something swift and savage in the movement.

“Do you think I’d forgotten? Do you think I had forgotten them? Do you think I could forget them?

“This is for you, Josefina!”

“And this, for you, Victoria!”

“And this, for you, Concepcion!”

Mr. Angeles called the names rather than uttered them.

“Don’t, Jaime, please don’t,” was all that Nana Emilia managed to say.

“Is it fair to forget them? Would it be just to disregard them?” Mr. Angeles demanded rather than asked.

His voice had risen shrill, almost hysterical; it was also stern and sad, and somehow vindictive. Mr. Angeles had spoken almost as if he were a stranger.

Also, he had spoken as if from a deep, grudgingly – silent, long – bewildered sorrow.

The children heard the words exploding in silence. They wanted to turn away and not see the face of their father. But they could neither move nor look away; his eyes held them, his voice held them where they were. They seemed rooted to the spot.

Nana Emilia shivered once or twice, bowed her head, gripped her clasped hands between her thighs.

There was a terrible hush. The remaining mats were unfolded in silence. The names which were with infinite slowness revealed, seemed strange and stranger still; the colors not bright but deathly dull; the separate letters, spelling out the names of the dead among them, did not seem to glow or shine with a festive sheen as did the other living names.

Aguila, Augusto Antonio A., Joyce L. Arriola and John Jack Wigley. Philippine Literatures: Texts, Themes, Approaches. Espana, Manila: Univesity of Santo Tomas Publishing House. Print.