NICK JOAQUIN: PHILIPPINES WRITER
May Day Eve
By 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 filing up 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 moaning, proclaiming themselves disconsolate but straightway going off to finish the punch and the brandy though they were quite 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 where 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 neighbors! cried one; and swim in the Pasig! cried another; and gather fireflies! cried a third—whereupon there arose a great clamor for coats and capes, for hats and canes, and they were 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 or ripe guavas to the young men trooping so uproariously down the street that the girls who were desiring upstairs in the bedrooms catered 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 mustaches 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, horrid world it was, till old Anastasia plucked them off by the ear or the pigtail and chases them off to bed---while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, "Guardia serno-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, and night of lovers, and those who
cared might peer into a mirror and
would there behold the face of whoever it was they were fated to marry, said the
old Anastasia as she hobble
about picking up the piled crinolines and folding up shawls and raking slippers
in corner while the girls climbing
into 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 is a maga. She was born of 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 grand lady!"
"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 shy:
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 hat 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 the year 1847. There are no devils anymore!" Nevertheless she had turned pale. "But where could I go, hugh? 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---give me that candle, I go."
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 while 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 out the face she now saw in it was an old face---a hard, bitter, vengeful face, framed in graying hair, and so sadly altered, so sadly different from that other 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 years and 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 honor. 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 speak to you, Mama?" "Yes… Yes, he spoke to me," said Doña Agueda. And bowing her graying head; she wept.
"Charms like yours have no need for a candle, fair one," he had said, smiling at 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 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 men!"
"Come, come---how do you know about us?"
"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 in the knuckles that he cried with pain and lashed cut 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 go 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 to Antipolo in the morning and was already planning how he would maneuver 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! He remembered her bare shoulders: gold in her candlelight and delicately furred. He saw the mobile insolence of her neck, and her taut breasts steady in the fluid gown. Son of a Turk, but she was quite enchanting! How could she think she had 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 forge 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.
(end of excerpt)
Excerpt provided by Alberto Florentino, publisher of Peso Books, which contained these and hundreds of other stories and poems from 1962 to 1972.
Copyright 2003 by Nick Joaquin; all rights reserved.
Nick Joaquin was born in Paco, Manila on September 14, 1917. He attended Paco Elementary School and three years of secondary education at Mapa High School, and then he abandoned school to work as an apprentice in a bakery in Pasay. He later became a "printer's devil" in the composing department of Tribune, a job that started him on a literary career that has spanned over six decades. He has won numerous awards, including a Rockefeller Grant and the prestigious 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. In 1976, he had been named a National Artist of the Philippines in the field of literature, the highest recognition given in the Philippines to an artist. His works include:
The Way We Were," Writers & Their Milieu: An Oral History of Second Generation Writers in English, ed. E.N. Alegre & D. Fernandez (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1987), pp. 1-9.
Prose and Poems (Manila: Graphic House, 1952).
The Woman Who Had Two Navels (Manila: Regal Publishing, 1961).
La Naval de Manila and Other Essays (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1964).
Tropical Gothic (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1972).
Reportage on Crime: Thirteen Horror Happenings That Hit the Headlines (Manila: National Book Store, 1977).
A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History (Makati: Ayala Museum, Filipinas Foundation, 1977).
Almanac for Manilenos (Manila: Mr & Ms Publishing, 1979).
Discourses of the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies (Manila: Cacho Hermanos, 1983).
The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations (Metro Manila: Cacho Hermanos, 1983).
Cave & Shadows (Metro Manila: National Book Store, 1983).
Collected Verse (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1987).
Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Metro Manila: Solar Publishing, 1988).
May Langit Din Ang Mahirap: The Life Story of Alfredo Siojo Lim (Metro Manila: Atlas Publishing, 1998).
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