Category Archives: Noli Mi

4.1 Finding Elias

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The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car… a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little.
– Ben Sweetland

What is the sound of progress?

It is not a roar, nor a march, nor the bang-clank of metal on metal. It is a heartfelt sigh, a warm caress – it is the sound of steam. To be more precise, a somewhat *whiss-click* sound.

Within the square space in the middle of my stone home, is now emplaced a small Corliss steam engine. It is only about as long as an adult man is tall, its cylinder is oriented horizontally rather than vertically. Its flywheel spins hypnotically, as the piston moves back and forth with only a gentle hiss. Those two spinning balls of the centrifugal governor dance almost joyfully.

I must say, I am greatly surprised by how quiet this is. I have seen steam engines before, in my studies here and in Europe, but large ones meant to drive mills, and somehow the idea of a personal scale steam engine had escaped me. It is so quiet, so very quiet that I may allow it to run all night and still manage to sleep comfortably. It is also incredibly clean, the fires used to heat the water in the boiler less noxious than the exhaust fumes from a carburetor.

The boiler for the engine is a simple copper casket nearby. The amusing thing about this is that since we are burning things to heat up the water anyway, we have decided to use the ambient heat for other things. Someone has placed strips of squid to dry on a rack on top of the boiler.

I could understand why steam failed for mass transport such as cars, since rather than keep oil and water for motive power, just burn gasoline in one go. Even if we equalize thermal efficiency, less weight to carry means a smaller, more agile automobile.

Yet I must ask, people of the future, why did you stop using steam engines for home power? True, a gasoline or diesel generator is much more compact, but this steam engine of mine… behold its stately elegance! It is multi-fuel; coal, charcoal, eventually someone is going to figure out liquefied petroleum gas. It matters not how the fires are fed, only that it is lit. You will not have that annoying *chug-chug-chug* clatter that accompanies even the smallest ‘silent-type’ generator. A steam engine’s operating cycle is much gentler, which means longer span before it breaks down. I know that there remain working steam engines a century old in your time. Steam continues to drive your civilization, for what else do you burn coal and oil and harness the heat of the atom but to drive steam turbines?

Perhaps your children would remain more interested in engineering, in remaining in their country to fix it, if they continued to see such examples of genteel potency instead of rude efficiency? That world I glimpsed moves lightning-fast, a society that considers its appliances as more akin to magic boxes, if it is broken or outdated; throw it out, replace it! Steam exemplifies living for the long haul. Respect where you came from, lest you lose sight of why you strive so!

Ah, well. I do recognize that this a technology that works better the larger it is. The age of the internal combustion engine is a well-deserved supremacy. Ironic that battery-powered cars have actually been invented first in this era, which Ford and Edison even attempted to make mass-producible, but it is you who get to enjoy it. Ah, I criticize you because I envy you.

The flywheel spins, connected to a dynamo, producing approximately 40 volts in DC power, stepped down to 13 volts for my batteries and the pump for the nearby ice maker. I am producing one and half kilowatts of power, much more than I require.

The servants are still discomfited by the couple of electric lamps I have installed. Carbon-filament bulbs, for though Edison knew that eventually tungsten would be a better material, the technology for making such fine wires would only be breached by the Hungarian company Tungsram in 1904. In this era almost everyone is off to sleep by eight o’clock. With such unnaturally bright lights, a person might continue to write letters or extend leisure time well into midnight, as is normal in the world a hundred years from now. How much you take for granted this boon to productivity! These little dregs of power are less than a fraction of a fraction as that energy you expect to be available as your right, but in these times the greater energy will be found in blood and soil!

They might call me mad. Mad with power? No! Mad from lack of power!

But no more!

Aha.

Ahaha.

MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

“Wahahahaha.”

Wait. That… does not sound right.

I lower my hands and turn to see Basilio standing beside me. His arms are on his hips, his head thrown back in triumphant laughter. He stops to return my quizzical gaze.

“… why are you laughing?” I ask.

“You looked like you were having such fun, señor. I just wanted to try it out.”

Hmm. Yes. Basilio is another that continues to surprise me. He retains the sort of earnestness and strong sense of ethics that would aid his studies, but also acquired a strange form of serene acceptance for whatever comes his way. If we are to talk about sensibility, Crispin is a much more sensible child. He is fearful, he is hesitant, he is somewhat greedy, but these are all normal feelings.

I have no idea why Basilio has become so fearless and impudent. Any other boss might be irked by this, but he knows I mind it not. Even so it is not sensible to feel so secure given our disparity in age and social class. The Philippines is less of a racist society than a classist one.

Without future tragedies to shape his character, I wonder of his strength in the days to come. He would not meet now the kindly Tandang Selo, who should have nursed him back to health after being injured fleeing from the Guardia Civil for being accused of stealing. His disappearance would have led Sisa to think both her sons were dead and drive her mad; the next time mother and son would meet would be for her to die in his arms.

While that is something that is well avoided, now he would not also so naturally meet Juli, this Juliana de Dios, Old Man Selo’s grand-daughter and his future sweetheart.

“Don Crisostomo, you are doing that thing again.”

“What thing?”

“The one where you think you are using the inside voice but doing the outside voice instead.”

What? Oh. Well. “… how long have you been listening?”

“Since ‘they call me mad, mad with power? No, mad from lack of power!’, Don Crisostomo.”

Well, shite. You are too dangerous to my sense of normalcy, Basilio. Get out.

The boy takes a deep breath. “No.”

After a short while, he adds “If not meeting Juli means not acting like you when in Maria Clara’s presence, it is fine for me not to meet a girl so soon.” He clacks his tongue. “Not very soon at all, I hope not to act so silly at any point.”

“Hah, you say that now, child, but soon enough you will find yourself looking back on these words and laughing at your own naiveté.”

“I will not,” he replies firmly.

I continue to smirk down at him. “Then yours will be a sadder future.”

“My mother and my brother… they are alive today. Two good lives in exchange for a useless one, that is a good trade. Thank you, Don Crisostomo. You have already given us a better future, that is why I do not fear your intentions.”

My smile turns upside-down. “You do know that I had nothing at all, none whatsoever, to do with that, yes?”

“I do not believe you,” is Basilio’s even-tempered reply.

Tch. “Fine.” I reach into my vest to take out my pocket watch. “You are back early, Basilio. Have you already fulfilled your mission?”

“Yes, señor. I have found him. As you said, as long as I have Doggol with me, I can find anyone. Anywhere. None shall escape.”

“You are only lucky that Elias is a good man, he would hardly harm a child.”

Basilio only shrugs.

And who is this Elias, you might ask, and why is it important to find him? In the novel that Dr. Jose Rizal wrote about my life, the man named Elias was my direct opposite: where I stood in trust of the regime, he saw only things to burn; as I rely on my riches, he walks homeless and in humility; where I trust in education to advance the hope of the nation, its children, he applies strength against the  sinful and abusive.

And when, as Rizal had made prophecy of my life, I have forsaken all hope for the future and advocate only bloody revolution, it is Elias who would die in my place, mistakenly shot dead by the Guardia Civil as I would flee by swimming across the lake. A much worthier a man than I would become, jaded and vengeful in the passing of years; the jeweler Simoun, the agitator, the flatterer, the terrorist bomber.

Complementary opposites. As Moses needed Aaron, Holmes and Watson, as Superman and Batman exist in counterpoint,  and as Paul McCarthy and John Lennon show that the cultural myth of the lone genius doesn’t stand up to the power duo, so did I need someone who can stand on my level yet with a dissimilar skill set to accomplish that which I could not; so that we would not need to take more drastic and more merciless actions.

In some ways I asked this silently of Maria Clara too, to have the gentleness and common sense I cannot spare.

Basilio was still much too young to serve as my spymaster and army chief of staff.

Basilio smiles wryly. “It is better than your first plan, señor. It is a good thing you asked Crispin, who then told teacher Navidad to talk you out of the foolish peril of your ploy.”

I wince. There was no guarantee that Elias would still be the boatman if we went on that boat excursion on the lake, and Maria Clara has decided to postpone that to after the fiesta anyway.

I did know that he was sweet on a girl in San Diego, a young lady named Salome who lives alone in a house at the banks of the lake.

My plan was to wait there. Alone. At night. At her house. For him to show up. You know, for confidentiality’s sake.

Navidad’s reaction was to say “With all respect, Don Crisostomo, do you want to DIE?!”

If not Elias (literally), then Maria Clara (figuratively) would kill me for creeping about in the vicinity of an unattended young lass late at night. Crispin very sensibly suggested that if all I wanted was to talk with Elias, then let him approach me instead. A Don should not be off running after people, it was improper (servants exist and are paid well for that, as his own recent experience showed).

“Has he agreed to meet me deep in the forest where my great-grandfather’s grave lies?”

“… yes.”

-x-

I can feel enough of you as if saying ‘You should not be relying so much on children to point out your stupidity’. There is also a saying ‘mind of a genius, sensibility of a child!’ Those who maintain their sense of wonder shall find serendipity.Also, because of situations like this:

“Excuse me, what? You are asking me if I would like to buy your niece’s… children?”

Sendong, the caretaker of my father’s lands, nodded and explained. If I wanted more children to run around and serve, then it would be kind of me to bring those children into this home. They would work hard, he would make sure of it! It would not even cost me much, they will obey any order, he would rather they die than shame the family as useless mouths to feed.

Having many children is the only investment the poorest can make.

“I see. That… is certainly a thing.” I had forgotten that it was still a custom of these times for the poor to sometimes sell their children to their wealthier relatives or patrons for a sum. The children would then work as servants in their homes for a span of years. Technically indentured servitude, but even slaves had better protections. Remember, Crispin and Basilio are seven and ten, and are expected to work. If you do not work, you are not fed; if you cry, you are beaten.

For the Bible sayeth: Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Also: Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

As much as having spoiled and entitled brats given all they ever wanted in life like little lordlings is a problem, I am askance at the idea that parents in this time period believe that they totally own their children, that children have no rights and protections of their own.

Unfortunately my first thought, which I barely manage to suppress from being spoken out loud, is ‘So, are there any orphans we could use?’

And my next thought: ‘With enough orphans, and Japanese contract workers from Davao, could we make a village of ninja in the mountains somewhere? Starting early is the best way to build loyalty.’

I am sitting behind my desk with my hands laced into a bridge under my noise. I stare intently, yet emptily at the old man. My mind races with the simulation –

‘Basilio, bring your brother.’ He must serve the vital function of Number 12 in the Evil Overlord List.

Then Crispin would sensibly ask ‘What is a ninja?’

After explaining, with awestruck eyes, he would say ‘Let’s do that then!’

And Basilio would just go ‘Eh.’

The old man is fidgeting in place. “Don Crisostomo, if this displeases you, I apologize, I apologize a hundred times!”

Mmm. Yet there is also a net positive here, because children who grow up in other people’s homes, even if they are considered menial servants, eventually become a part of that family’s patronage system. In this century, rich people considered themselves well off by how many people they supported. The peasantry feel safer when they are under the command of a powerful family. It is all so terribly feudal, and yet I know it will survive in some form into the next century.

Such as it is, there is power in a web of obligations. You help the ones who provide for you, and in return they help you in your times of trouble. In theory. Well, at least I would be able to provide proper nutrition, decent clothes, and schooling. In a single generation, families could rise from poverty.

Perhaps as a convenient happenstance, the foundation for a covert intelligence apparatus.

But on the other hand, do I really want to encourage such a backwards system?

[Googol] is being astoundingly unhelpful on the question of whether or not to buy children.

In the last month in the year of 1887, is the portrait of a young man as a mad scientist.

A mad social scientist.

Elias, get your ass over here. I need to fill out my brain trust!

-x-

It is now the mid-afternoon. Juliano Navidad is here, and we are performing one final rehearsal for tomorrow’s presentation. Old Tasio is here as well, because it his house is the only place where we may discuss things in relative security. The old autodidact rubbed at his grizzled chin as inspected at the strange assembly of lights, lenses and wires. Steam, he was familiar with that technology, but this had no moving parts.

“Electricity is such an interesting phenomenon,” he muses. He points to a tubular device leading to a box, another assembly of magnets and wires powered by its own battery bank. “And this other contraption, you say, is a voice amplifier?”

“If tele– or ‘at a distance’ and phone– ‘voice or sound’ means to speak at a distance, while I very much want to call this the macrophone or to ‘to speak with excessiveness’, unfortunately it has already been dubbed the microphone. The concept was first put into use by the German physicist Johann Philipp Reis, but it was David Edward Hughes in 1878 who invented a much more practical and refined version. He also coined the term ‘microphone’, saying that it acted as much as the microscope does for light as it magnifies minute sounds.”

He chuckles. “And such a petty thing as unclear terminology annoys you…?”

“Words are the only magic we humans can use. It is how we define the world, how we define ourselves. This is the memory of our species.”

“And this thing, where the sound comes out – what would you call this?”

“That is the loudspeaker.”

The old man shakes his head sadly. “Forgive me if I do not have much confidence in your naming sense.”

“Don Crisostomo-“

I turn around to see Navidad sitting with his face in his palms. He gives me a dark look through his fingers.

“Are you not nervous at all about tomorrow? About anything?! I realize it may be too late to say this, but your prediction did come true. The Governor-General has indeed arrived. Tomorrow, though I will be standing behind them, it is too great an occasion for one such as me. What if I make a mistake while switching plates? I would ruin your speech! I am but a humble schoolteacher, it is not my place to stand with such luminaries.”

“If you do not do it, Basilio will need to take over. His young fingers at the end of stubbier arms will not decrease the chances of fumbling.”

“I would just like to remind you one last time that I am supposed to be working for the government, not you.”

“Ehh, soon enough that will make no difference.”

“Don Crisostomo, I would like to remind you one more time to please do not make such comments in public.”

“In that case, perhaps I had best find an Aaron to my Moses.” I raise my finger and point to the outside. “To answer your question, teacher, I am not worried about tomorrow because to speak to the rich and powerful is trivial. Greed and self-importance create worlds onto themselves. This is not an evil thing, this is merely… marketing.”

“You certainly do live in a separate world from the rest of us…” he mutters in return.

“Should something happen to me, YOU will make this million-peso speech! It is not for idle reason I had you memorize it along with the timings.”

“Please, no!” The teacher cringes and crosses his arms over his face. I am not a vampire, that will not work on me.

I turn away from this silly sight and ask “Tell me, Don Anastasio, has Padre Damaso returned to San Diego?”

“He has.”

“Did something happen to him along the way?”

The old man purses his lips and scowls at me. “Rumor about town has that Padre Damaso was struck down on the way to San Diego. Even now he is confined to his bed. They speak of it as the work of that infamous outlaw, Elias.”

“Elias? That fellow! Is he not the one who threw the Alferez into a mudhole?” Navidad exclaimed.

“That sounds interesting. I would hear more of this story.”

“They say it was a very rainy day in September, and the Alferez met on a narrow muddy path a man carrying a heavy bundle of firewood on his back. There being only enough space in the road for one person, the Alferez ordered the man to make way. Yet, the man seemed to have little regard for going back nor to be swallowed by the mud by the roadside, on account of the heavy load on his back, and so he continued moving forward.

As he approached, the Alferez, incensed, tried to slash at him with his sword. But the man snatched a piece of firewood off his back and struck his pony on the head with such force that the poor beast fell, throwing away his rider on the mud. They also say that the man went on his way with tranquility, without taking notice of the five bullets sent at his back by the Alferez, there who was blinded by mud and rage. The Alferez had no knowledge of this man, but he supposed it was that famous Elias who came to the province several months ago. The Guardia Civil know him in several towns for much the same actions.”

“Is he a bandit, then?”

“It is not certain, for he is also said to have fought off several tulisanes while they were robbing a house, and did not stay to be rewarded.”

“Hmm. How brave of this Elias, how capable! And yet how slovenly.”

“In what way do you think this was shoddily done?” Old Tasio asks with a strange lilt to his voice.

“Well, for someone to attack such august personages of town, it seems like someone carries a grudge. Yet to deal someone a medium injury seems a bit… pointless. Their hearts shall surely seek revenge. I would prefer to do someone a minor injury that can be redressed, or something so severe it would be impossible to recover from.

“Hence the mystery here, if it is indeed the man Elias who had gone and battered around two or more Español, why did not just kill them? It makes no difference, they will seek his death for such an insult anyway.”

“Perhaps he is a man who knows mercy,” Don Anastasio enunciates carefully.

“Then I shall hope he shows me a little more mercy than that, when we speak this night.”

“Don Crisostomo, no!” Navidad wails.

“Don Crisostomo, yes!”

-x-

It is now the deep of night.

It is not midnight, however, no matter how thematically appropriate that may be. It is merely a time when most are already asleep, and those intent with pleasant skullduggery can move with ease in the shadows. It is about nine o’clock. A fugitive such a Elias would not own a timepiece, and once the sun has set time seems to fly on by.

It is peaceful here, literally the peace of a grave, and unlike the poor graveyard of my town it is remains sanctified in its seclusion. I sit under drooping boughs of this cursed Balete tree, whose twisting and misshapen trunk and drooping vines seem like it could just swallow me up, if I blink the warped forms will come alive – exposing their true nature as unholy and hungry tentacular flesh beneath a hardened crust. The too-imaginative mind needs not the terrors of the dark, for it is always darkest in the unfathomable space behind one’s eyes.

Simply speaking, I am not a very imaginative man.

I awaited the appearance of my great-grandfather’s ghost, but I suppose as a good Christian I should not have expected anything to happen. No such excitement tonight, for the sin of suicide he should still be in Purgatory, and it is only during the Day of the Dead when the boundaries weaken and souls may cross over. If every place touted as haunted would allow such apparitions so easily, then there would be no point in saying masses for the dead.

There is no fear for the supernatural in me, unfortunately. That mystery is closed to me. If there are ghosts, let me welcome them. Come, spectres! Come, spooks! Let me do science to you!

There is only the noise of a living jungle. And the mosquitoes. God, this a horrible idea.

‘When you tried to talk me out of this, you should have used this much more comprehensible drawback instead of trying to frighten me about Elias bringing his bandit friends with him!’, I rail silently towards my advisors of some hours ago. Men of even darkest hearts I might persuade, but insects care nothing for social-fu!

Ah! Finally I espy a light through the trees. It is Basilio, carrying a lantern, and of course Doggol bounding happily at his side.

Behind the boy follows a man with mildly brown skin with a trimmed mustache and long hair, clad in simple peasant clothes that filled out with his powerful, martial physique. He wears a salakot, a wide-brimmed conical hat made of reeds, which hides most of his face under its shadow.

“Don Crisostomo,” Basilio bows slightly to me. “Elias,” he gestures to the man behind him.

I nod back. “Basilio.” Then to the visitor to my family tomb, “Elias.”

Elias does not look sure how to respond. A bolo hangs by his hips, and as they enter the clearing his hand drifts closer to the hilt. A man of actual violence and power to my being of implied violence and influence.


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Noli 2.2 A Noisome Grave

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
– Steve Jobs

But I did not return to San Diego alone. Doggol is always afoot, except when he is not, so should no longer be counted.

Accompanying me was an old, withered servant of the family. My father owned many properties in San Diego, but of course cash crops were useless without the buyers to receive and process its harvest. Therefore there must be a steward that must remain in the city.

He behaves towards me with the cringing servility I knew better to mistake for honest loyalty. Why? Because he is old enough to have known my grandfather.

Don Rafael was a kind man worthy of respect, but he does not know how much of Saturnino Ibarra’s temper would rule in my blood.

In another life, the answer would be simple. Plenty. My father’s temperance would have nurtured in me the long, simmering hatred I would express as Simoun, the filibustero.

“My own failing health and my own occupations have prevented me from returning, Señor. Capitan Tiago said he would have a tomb built, but… in the end, he did not. I had seen to your father’s grave, I have planted flowers over it and had a large cross erected.”

“And after that, it was no longer your problem to mind. I do not blame you for this. You have served my family’s finances well, your task in Manila is well enough to consume all your attention.”

“Señor Ibarra, I apologize again- I could have done more…“

“Señor Doroy, you have nothing to fear. You have graciously offered to accompany me to San Diego to show me my father’s grave, even with your health as it is.”

Yet I cannot act so kindly and grateful to this old man, for managing my father’s deals and properties while I was away. It must have been hard trying to prevent my father’s enemies from chipping away at the inert wealth of the Ibarras, while I lounged about in Europe. I have said my thanks, but I cannot be so impulsive.

‘I wish you would not be so kind’ his eyes seem to beg. ‘Not too cruel, but not too trusting.’ Not too much like my father. I must present an image of strength and certainty – because I am now responsible for the livelihoods of many.

He is called Tandang Doroy, a name with two meanings. The first meaning Old Doroy, for Cristiano Doroy had ever felt an old wary soul even as a young man. The second, meaning Rooster, for like a bantam in his youth he strutted around proudly in fine clothes that his service to a Spaniard afforded.

I am running through the strategies in my mind. I may need to have Old Doroy replaced, rewarded with a generous retirement package, or the things I will be doing will drive him into a stress-fueled heart attack. By Christmas I will be gifting everyone with too much ham. In  both the literal and the Reb Brown sense.

Or maybe he would be strong enough to take it? To not be bribed or intimidated? If he but knew his family would be made safe, one should never underestimate the raw stubbornness of an old man.

The carriage rolls into San Diego, then past it. Some ways out of town and nestled among the rice fields is the cemetery, fenced in partly by stones and partly by bamboo. This separates this barrio of the dead from the world of men, but not venturesome pigs and goats from the neighborhood that occasionally feed and gambol among the graves.

It is no restful country for the dead.

We step off the dusty carriage, and bid its driver to remain and let the panting horses rest. My mind flashes to the spectacles of the for-profit graveyards of the future, with their manicured grass lawns and apartment tombs and their amazing lack of consecration and before I know it the words leak through my mouth – “We can do better than this.”

“Señor?”

I squint at the sky and then exhale. This country. This whole damn century. God! “We pay for masses in service to our departed in Purgatory, but who takes service for the living? Do the dead even care where their bones lie? Cemeteries are not for the dead, but for the living.”

“I am not sure what you mean, Señor Ibarra. Good Christians should be buried properly, not like a heathen! We all owe it to our dead, for surely when we go to join them they will know if we treated their remains with respect or not!”

“And so in their memory we also light candles on their graves and pray over them. Graveyards are places so that the living can find their departed, and where laid down into the ground all men are finally equal,” I gesture towards the cemetery as we walk. “On All Souls Day we give offerings and pay for masses that our families may have temporary respite from Purgatory. I am simply saying this lack of organization is… irritating to me,”

I begin to move my palms in the air in tandem as if chopping up blocks. “Everyone in their proper place under heaven, but at least we could give everyone a lapida to make it easier for those who still live to find their graves.”

Sadly the Day of the Dead in the Philippines is not completely awesome as Mexico’s Day of the Dead, but more a sombre and desperate affair. It is said that a mass said on All-Saint’s Day and All-Soul’s Day is worth five or six any other times of the year.

“There are those who think that named gravestones and large tombs are merely for bragging’s sake. God already knows their names.” Then he adds in a small voice “It is the Tsino who make too much about the splendor of their ancestor’s graves. The prayers for their soul… each mass shortening the time they spend in Purgatory, I would think that would be more important to them.” To me; he does not say. He worries for his own sake, for he knows he is not long til the grave.

“Mmm. You would be fine with this for your own resting place? You were born here, in San Diego, but you work in Manila, and your children live in Malate. A much more orderly cemetery than this probably awaits.”

“I-if you mean that I should have sought better for Don Rafael, I accept this rebuke. But San Diego is his town, I cannot think he would wish to be buried anywhere else!”

“No, merely allow me to ask you this clearly – by this, do you mean to say that all Christians deserve a minimum of respect in their burial, but to ask for more decorations on their grave than a good sturdy cross is but useless egoism?”

“I am not sure…”

“It is not such a bad thing, you know. It is a very reasonable stance to take. There is no wrong answer here – it is just as well for a poor farmer to bury his wife and mother of the family, dead of cholera, in the corner of their farm to sanctify it in their eyes; as it is for a rich man to prepare a grand tomb while he yet lives, like the pharaohs of old. As you said, it is the prayers that are important.”

“Then I guess that is somewhat like what I mean. Forgive me, Señor, for I truly could not do more for your father’s sake.“

I nod benignly. Filipinos hate being pressured, and most of all they hate Socratic questioning. Many have written about the inscrutable Oriental mind, when often it is a simple as wanting but unable to say ‘get out of my face already’.

It all sounds as if you are trying to shame them with a ‘gotcha!’ moment, and so in such circumstances they would rather lie than commit, which unfortunately only adds to the frustration of the questioner. Leading questions are stupid questions, better not to waste time and ask straight out.

Except that simpler more forceful questions can add even more pressure, because the wrong answer might have even more immediate and painful consequences. ‘Who are you, a Spaniard?’ a gravedigger annoyed at his co-worker would say ‘Asking so many questions. Who commanded me to dig up a grave only twenty days old, in the dead of night, even while it is raining? To the devil with you! If I did know you to be a man like me, I would think you were a Spanish civilian.’

“No, it is fine. You have as much as you could have under the circumstances. I now owe you a favor, Señor Doroy.”

I glance aside towards Mount Makiling in the distance, the home of an immortal, and then enter this garden of the dead.

——–

In the center of the cemetery stands a tall wooden cross set upon a pedestal of fitted stone blocks, held together by mortar made out of sand, lime, egg whites, and cane sugar. Odd as this recipe may be, the churches that still stand in your century attest to its efficacy.

But this shrine is one battered by wind and sun; the tin plate nailed upon the cross had long faded the letters INRI – Iesu Nazarenum Rex Iudareum, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews – and below the cross are piled a heap of nameless skulls and bones that the gravedigger had indifferently thrown away from the graves he had dug. These are the poor forgotten remains of those dead whose families no longer could pay the fee for remaining interred in this cemetery. In their place lie new caskets; the old ones chopped up and burned for firewood.

“There, just behind that big cross, Señor!” Old Doroy points.

We step gingerly past the cross and the shallow burial mounds, and Old Doroy looks around confounded for the cross that marks my father’s grave. “Is it here, is it here, or there? I remember – there was a stone nearby. It is that one- but the earth has been disturbed!”

The old man notices the gravedigger regarding us with bland curiousity, who upon our approach doffs his salakot in respectful greeting. “Can you tell me, where is the grave that had the big cross?” Old Doroy asks him.

The gravedigger looks placidly towards the spot. “A big cross?”

“Yes, like this,” with his bamboo cane he traces out a Byzantine cross on the ground.

“The one with the flowers growing on it?”

“Yes, with adelfas, and sampagas and pensamientos, that is it!” Pink, white, and purple flowers; here none to be found. He offers the gravekeeper a cigar as incentive. “Now, man, tell us where is the grave and the cross.”

The gravedigger yaws and rubs at his ears. Then he says “Well… the cross, I have already burnt it.”

“What? Why?!”

“Because the head priest ordered me to.”

Old Doroy’s eyes bulge out. He is at a loss for words. He looks to me helplessly.

‘Did you really not know about this?’ I wanted to ask. Perhaps Old Doroy was acting out some sort of face, trying to deflect blame in pretending he did not know that my father’s remains have been so shamed. But looking at him, the dismay in his face is real. It is plausible for him not to know if he spent all this time in the city, dealing in the indigo and sugar trade. I raise my hand, with my face still carefully expressionless, and gesture for him to continue.

“Then where is the grave? Surely you must remember, you can at least tell us where it is.”

The gravedigger shrugs. “The body is no longer there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, in its place I have interred a woman there just last week,” he adds with a faintly rascally tone. “That one there.”

“You madman! Why have you done this! It has not been a year since we buried him! The fees for staying in this cemetery, we have paid for five years!”

He yawns. “I had to, you see, for the priest ordered it. Even though it was raining, even though I was sick, he had me dig it up to take it to the cemetery of the Chinese –“

For the first time here, I speak “And you did this, I trust?”

He quivers, for in the tone iofmy voice he has realized he is treading into dangerous waters. “Do not be angry, Señor. I did not bury him among those weak-kneed foreigners. It is better to drown than to be buried with the Chinamen, I said to myself, and so I threw the dead body into the wate-“

The world stops.

This right here is why Filipinos do not care to volunteer information.

This right here is why the Filipinos of this age do not care to rise up about abuses piled high on themselves.

This right here is emblematic of the ills of the nation as a whole. It is not that the Indio is indolent, but that he cannot look beyond his present inconvenience to the consequences of his decision to quit early. What lies in the future is in the future, it is not today; and today can be the same as tomorrow. As you can abide today, there is no temptation to seek for greater wealth and pleasures.

This man, beaten savagely by Padre Damaso for burying Don Rafael, had to dig up the grave and carry the still bloody, stinking bones all the way to the Chinese cemetery; there amid the flaming pain and the icy needle-like touch of the rain, could only look forward to even more painful labor digging a new grave. No; he must have thought; I cannot bear it. I cannot survive to go there, so let me cut this labor short and call it done.

He was sick afterwards, and survived after a week or so of agony tended only by charitable neighbors, since no one was willing to be the wife of a filthy gravedigger – and back to a mean life, where no one still respected him. He shows no respect for the dead nor to anyone, for he has never felt it, nor have any in him to give. Only by fear of pain is he motivated.

He is the nation unwilling to move or be moved, because he has nothing and in remaining nothing his only protection is being too pathetic to be bothered with. He is beaten for minding his duty, so he does not care to exert more in the sake of propriety or justice. As bad as his life, it could be worse; no tulisanes thinks he is worth robbing, no religious harpy orders him to do more for sake of appearances, and of his fate in Heaven he gives no mind. What little power he has, he lords over those under him, for it is the only thing in this life that gives him real pleasure.

I can empathize, truly.

And yet almost agonizingly slowly, yet faster than I can think, I see my cane rise up to smash him aside in the head. While Old Doroy’s cane is of light bamboo, mine is one of heavy polished hardwood, bought in the shops for its possible utility in self-defense.

Time resumes. Gasps erupt from the few townpersons already visiting and saying prayers in the graveyard, all of them struck just as numb by this sudden scandalous violence.

The gravekeeper drops, and lets out a keening wail. Surprised, Old Doroy steps fearfully away from me.

“Ibarra…” he whispers.

The rage passes, and there is only shame. But this man. This country. Right now, so much waste. So blind! Unable to see beyond the next moment, the next day!

And I…

There does not seem to be blood from the strike to his head from earlier, I hit mostly the cheek. It bruises, perhaps cut the inside of his mouth from his teeth, but not as dangerous as a hit straight to the temples might have been.

I am a hypocrite. I am indulging over what petty power I have over the defenseless. Are some behaviors too ingrained? Must a man first be broken before he can be rebuilt?

“I am Juan Crisostomo Ibarra,” I speak through clenched teeth. “Here once rested my father’s bones. In ordering them dug up, this is the reason why Padre Damaso is no longer the kura paroko of San Diego. Though it is said that he was transferred to a wealthier parish, his removal was ordered by the Gobernador-Heneral of the Philippines himself. That old Tiniente of the Guardia Civil had the attention of powerful people well beyond his station.”

I point away from the grave towards the gravedigger’s face. “Do you understand what this means?” Amazingly I can still see some hints of defiance and doubt in his face. In this time, beatings are still considered a form of punishment; men beat their children, teachers beat their students, women their maids, and few thought much of it. He has already been caned half to death before, this is not something new to fear anymore. And a man such as this, has very little left to lose. “Now so do you.”

I jab forwards lightly, right under his ribcage, and that was enough to send him coughing over and wheezing. A harmless blow to the diapraghm, but it looks and feels worse than that.

“You son of a whore! You shameless wastrel!” Old Doroy shouts at the gravedigger. “We should call for the Guardia!”

“It is not a crime to dig up a grave on a priest’s orders,” I respond. “Though I suppose the Guardia Civil would not even care, if anything should happen to such a careless gravekeeper.” I look around me, staring squarely at each scandalized face in turn.“Even in such a day as this. Such a fine day, is it not – good people of San Diego? How I have missed your faces!

If you have any problems come to me, for I will hear you. Or come at me, if you prefer, and I will receive you.”

“Señor Ibarra…”

“I apologize, Tandang Doroy, for letting this farce go for so long. I was so hoping that what I was told wrong, that after Padre Damaso’s passed, my father’s remains could at least be brought back. I would not have minded him being buried among the Chinese… if anything, my father would have thought it amusing.

In my life, he would have said, the Chinese would come to me begging for deals, but now in death I must beg for shelter under the overhangs of their home- tombs.”

Truly, he would! If he could but see what I know of the future’s Filipino-Chinese, he would laugh long and loud. Their tombs do merely look like miniature houses, but almost complete houses in their own right. You could look at them from the outside and think ‘I would rent this place’. Not such a terrible fate, is it? I would have been able to find and rebury him then! “

I jab at the gravekeeper again. He does not offer any defense. He could grab at my cane, he could run, but he does not. He merely cowers in place. Learned helplessness, this equanimity to suffering is what the Filipino has learned. Bahala na. What will be, will be. Acting out to defend oneself could only make it worse.

“What is your name, gravedigger?” Another light jab to his thighs. I feel like such a bully right now, but there is a point to all this.

“Bentong, Bentong Manghukay, I am!” Bentong who digs, such even appeared on his cedula personal; Roberto Manghukay. No family, no background, just this.

“You have done my family a… grave disservice. If you had simply done all as the Padre had asked of you, I would be rewarding you very greatly right now. All you had to do was to throw the corpse somewhere more easily found – buried in a shallow grave somewhere, into a hollow between the trees or some boulders! Anywhere except the rushing waters! Never did you think someone would care about the thing you carried, you resented it only for causing you pain!

Anything you want, I would have owed you a great favor, but in your laziness you have thrown away the chance for anything… anything, from a pension of ten pesos a month for the rest of your life, to a hectare or so of your own land! You are like the graves you dig! Empty and caring for nothing! ”

“Forgive me Señor!” he cries out. “I did not mean to insult you! I was ignorant, just tell me what to do and I will do it!”

He is cowering and covering his face. I jab at his armpits, causing him to recoil.

“Enough. Look at me.”

Slowly he lowers his arms. His eyes are wide with fright, despair, and not just a little bit of hate. Yes. I am everything you hate about this world, Bentong. Young, powerful, wealthy, self-assured, handsome – everything that is not you. This is the unfairness of everything.

I shift the hold of my cane from my right to my left hand. Then I reach behind my back and toss towards the gravedigger a leather bag.

“You are a man without dreams, Bentong. So I can only give you only the little that you think you deserve.” The pouch drops to the ground with a clink.

He freezes in place.

“There are all these people here who can witness that I have given you these thirty pesos,” more exactly, sixty pieces of Manila Mint 1885 King Alfonso XII 50-centavo silver coinage, “You have not stolen from me.” I tap at the ground with my cane. “Pick it up.”

“Señor, please, do not do this to me! I beg you!”

“There are consequences to all actions, including failing to act. Even people such as you, must feel this.”

“Have pity!”

Tittering and murmurs rise up from behind me, at this strange display. How odd that a man should be afraid of being offered money. How ludicrous a sight, a man on the ground begging away from being given money. But they also knew, deep in their heart, sometimes a gift can be poison. Perhaps it is an excuse, for a robber can be beaten to death by someone with the right social standing? No – I have said it is a gift, but then of course if a man is robbed later, that has nothing to do with the one who gave away the money. Such things just happen to those who carry around silver.

They stand and watch with horrid fascination. No one will come to help. The bystander effect in full strength. If there would be murder here, they would all be complicit in the sin. These are my Filipinos, they have not yet the idea of collective social responsibility.

“No tricks. No traps. You are going to lose your job anyway, so take this money and get out of my sight. Get out of my town. You are exiled, Bentong, and after I speak to the alferez should the Guardia Civil see your face in town again they will not merely beat you half to death. Whatever else you do, I do not care, as long as you do it elsewhere. May your pockets always find silver, but San Diego is forbidden to you.”

And how so suddenly he relaxes! A gift he is so suspicious of, but a punishment, now that fits his world-view! It is expected, and he can live with this.

This is a man without dreams.

“Thank you! Thank you Señor! Thank you for your mercy!” He swiftly grabs at the pouch and runs.

The sun is getting higher in the sky. I raise my face and close my eyes, and the warmth of the sun feels to me as if it is melting away my face as a wax mask, an oddly comfortable sensation. Rizal, tell me, which is my true self? The kind Ibarra that forgives even this indignity to his father’s memory? Or the hot-headed Ibarra that would pull a knife at an insult by Padre Damaso?

The task before me is huge and daunting, but I can feel it – it is the little things would destroy me. Father, forgive me for this cruelty, but we have all only just begun to be tested. Ah, if this cup could but pass me by…

“Señor Ibarra…” Old Doroy hesitates to ask. Even without looking I can feel it, he is furtive and uncertain. Was this not too public? A reputation of being an arrogant, vicious young man with a propensity for literally throwing money away could not be any good.

“Don.”

“Uh-“

“My father is dead. I am the Don Ibarra now.”

He pauses, and then sighs. “… as you say, Don Ibarra.” In proper Spanish, Don is to be used only with the first name, or in full, never the last. With surnames is the Italian style.

An arrogant vicious young man exactly described Don Saturnino Ibarra, and the people all lived with him just fine. “I… no longer have any objection.”


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Noli 2.1 Hometown

The Philippines is a terrible name, coming from Spain. Phillip II was the father of the inquisition, who I believe died of syphilis. It is my great regret that we didn’t change the name of our country.

Imelda Marcos

You are laughing at me. I can feel it, a tingling in the back of my brain. And it just so happens this is the sort of question that [Googol] cannot answer. No, that is wrong. I can feel it. Will not answer.

I  give Doggol a flat glare. He lolls his tongue out at me.

Fine then. So I shall keep secrets from all of you too!

I have plans, but there is no hurry yet – I have arrived before All-Saint’s Day, the day before the boy’s death as prophesized by Rizal, and the head sacristan will not trouble me over merely two gold pieces.

Well, a mere sum to us, but at this point in time the peso actually trades slightly higher than the dollar, and so thirty-two pesos is a mighty sum to many. It is enough money to provoke murder.

There is something about knowing what troubles lie ahead that makes all the pains I would have suffered in another life seem so… trivial? Self-inflicted? All I had to do was to keep a lid on my temper. This explosive anger we Filipinos have, when we allow our feelings to run hot heedless of the consequences – and afterwards not to feel guilty about it, because a man insane with rage can do anything.  

So many things resolved before they even become problems if you understood what really motivated people instead of trying to apply your own values onto theirs. It is like cheating in a way.

This amuses you greatly. Why?

Ah, it does not matter. I have arrived back at San Diego. At long last, I am home!

——————-

Do not compare San Diego to Calamba! This is the world where Rizal never existed. I am created by God, born of my mother, not by Rizal!

San Diego, cradle of my youth, innocence and joy!

But  I cannot speak of San Diego without first speaking of the lake upon whose banks it sits.

San Diego is a town along Laguna de Bay, that lake shaped somewhat like a three-toed dinosaur’s footprint or a misshaped ‘W’; from whence the province Laguna derives its name. You know how Luzon has a funny shape like a man’s head, correct? If the province of Pangasinan is his pointy noise, and Manila Bay is his mouth, then Laguna de Bay is perfectly positioned to be its tongue or voice box. How apt.

Laguna is a Spanish word that encompasses not just lagoons but even inland lakes. So it is amusing to me to hear foreigners refer to it as the Laguna Lake… the Lake Lake. Even more so when the Americans would confuse the issue of Laguna de Bay as Laguna Bay… as if it wasn’t a fully enclosed freshwater body. Laguna de Bay, Laguna of Bay, for there is a township there named Bay or Ba-i, which was once the provincial capital.

Look, north of Laguna there used to be the Encomiendas of Moron and Taytay, and somewhere in Sorsogon in Bicol is a town called Bacon. These odd linguistic accidents just happen.

Let us return – to San Diego! If in Manila was struck numb by how little it had changed through the past seven years, as if I were still a little boy running across the street to buy sweets from a Chinaman’s store, San Diego seems effectively frozen in time. The road here was long and rocky, and now that I have entered the town’s main street I am struck both with such fondness – and despondency, at the impossible weight of the task ahead.

Look at this road. It is an unpaved dirt road, and then when it rains it becomes mud. All the other roads in the country are like this, if they even have one. Trade and transport all over the whole country all slows to a trickle a few months every year just because.

I look towards the lake. During rainy season the lake waters swell and the rivers flood. Sometimes there are tornado-waterspouts. They appear during extreme thunderstorms, and thus rarely a danger since no one would be out in the lake anyway. Those dark mysterious forests and swamps are also prime breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which in this time many believed to come from ‘miasma’ seeping out from the jungle. Foreigners are often confused why in this time Filipinos rarely wax poetic about their picturesque environs.

Oh Mother Nature, she is pretty but she is also somewhat of a pain in the ass most of the time.

Look at that mountain straight south of Laguna de Bay. That is Mount Makiling. There are legends that Mariang Makiling, a diwata or nature forest spirit lives there. Certainly Rizal waxed eloquent about her kindness.

She is a fae, I wish to say to Rizal. If she existed in your world her benevolence would be different from the moral axis of mortals. Staying away is probably the kindest thing she could do.

I stare at Makiling’s irregular skyline for moment. I will certainly avoid visiting Mount Makiling.

I can feel your indignation in the back of my skull, but eh.

Wait, [Googol], make a note.

Know then that Laguna-Bai is a spirit of the lake and Makiling is the fairy that has Mount Makiling as her domain. Though they are on friendly terms, their personalities also conflict. Laguna is a undine, and while gracious most of the time, sometimes she is fickle and prone to pranking  those who disrespect and pollute her waters; but also gifting with bounty those who draw her interest. Makiling is a much more reserved sort, constant as her mountain, and while there are many tales of spirits loving mortals, she is one who would rather reject any confession, preferring to watch from a distance and see them happy with their own kind.

There was once a young man who could not decide between two loves – a comely young lass named Bonita Blanco, and a wealthy heiress named Valentina Volares. Both were mestiza, and while he was also a young Filipino of some means, his family did not own land. Bonita’s family owned land, and Valentina’s family owned a factory. The former is charming, neighborly, and with her heart open to all much beloved by the common folk. Valentina is pricklier, but her features much more strongly Spanish, and her family much wealthier. Though she often seems arrogant and disdainful, she sometimes shows moments of kindness and charity as long as no one is there to notice.

The young man’s name is Alejandro Amadeo.

His troubles were bad enough, but then Laguna and Makiling decided favor each girl. Inspired by her humility and friendliness, Makiling supported Bonita. Enjoying her brashness and wit, Laguna favored Valentina.

How will poor Alejandro survive, when supernatural powers now machinate with no full understanding of human life, to drive him to wed their favored girl!

I can feel your sheer outrage in the back of my skull. It is delicious.

Back to San Diego. There are so many memories bound here that I… I cannot! I cannot! I do not have the words. Pull as you might, the words escape me.

Go find Rizal’s lifework for the description of this town and its political situation. All I can think of right now is how these are the roads and spaces between houses that Maria Clara and I would run through as children. She had always been faster than me. And look there, the stone church, wherein while my mother was alive we would unfailingly attend mass every day at six in the early evening to listen to Padre Damaso.

It pains me.

But there is more to the town of San Diego than just its farmlands, its scrupulously religious folk, and the petty power struggle between its curate and the alferez who heads the Guardia Civil.

Perhaps what quickly draws attention, to set this apart from all other pastoral towns in the country, is that tangled forest which sits like an island upon a green sea of cultivated earth. In there are trees centuries old, woven together by wild vines and draped with moss, dark and moist, a Stygian otherworld. It is a dreaded forest and most of it is owned by my family.

The history of San Diego is the history of the Ibarra family. I shall recount to you the tale.

When San Diego was little more than a heap of miserable thatch huts around a foot-beaten street, one day arrived an old Spaniard with deeply sunken eyes who spoke uncannily proficient Tagalog. He acquired lands with the trade of clothing, jewelry, and some cash.  This Don Pedro Ebarramendia of Basque origin disturbed the locals with his deep, booming voice and the deathlike cast of his face and that when he laughed, only a deathly wheeze would come out from his mouth. None dared to challenge him.

And then, one day, he simply disappeared. It was only when a fetid odor emanating from the forest called the attention of some sheperds that he was discovered.  He hung, rotting, from a noose upon the branches of an ancient balete tree. Such a tree never stops growing, some still survive to your present, estimated by botanists to be thousands of years old. Their misshapen grasping branches, growing off the trunks like clawlike fingers, festooned with ragged veins that one might expect to spurt blood rather than sap, have ever held a paranormal impression upon the townsfolk.

Why such a man, powerful and having outlived or suppressed his enemies, should choose to die by hanging himself was a mystery never to be solved.

In his life, he was feared – but in his death by suicide, his sins perhaps in the end forcing his hand, the people threw his gifts of jewelry into the river and burned his clothing lest his blaspemous death left in them a curse. He was buried under that evil-looking tree, and from then on few had the nerve to enter the forest.

Those who entered reported eerie happenings, like a shepherd in search of his goats who spoke of strange lights; a young man who mentioned hearing an odd keening lament; and a young man wishing to prove his bravery and attract the attention of a disdainful young lady promised to spend the night under the tree, tied to it by a weave of reeds. He died mere days later from a high fever caught in the night he spent there for his bet. And much more are the fearful legends told about these dismal woods.

Soon after a young mestizo arrived in San Diego, professing himself the son of the deceased. He built a wall around his father’s grave, shortened the family name in the census papers from Ebarramendia to Ibarra, and settled firmly in the town. He dedicated himself to agriculture, primarily the cultivation of indigo. This Don Saturnino was a man of hard and violent and sometimes even cruel nature, but he was a hard worker and encouraged the development of the town. He gave out loans, and had no pity in collecting or seizing lands from those who faltered in their dues.

Though getting on in age, he married a young woman from the district of Santa Cruz in Manila, and she bore him a son; Don Rafael Ibarra, my father. He was well-loved by the peasants, and under his hand the development encouraged by his grandfather grew rapidly. The town of San Diego blossomed, more inhabitants poured in, and Chinese laborers and merchants followed them.

Eventually, it merited the establishment of its own stone church with a native priest, but then he too died and Padre Damaso arrived. Enticed by the prospects, Capitan Tiago and Doña Pia bought properties in San Diego and thus begun their friendship with its wealthiest landowner and its curate.

In those dark woods the twisted balite tree still stands, and a blackened rope still hangs in its branches, pulled to and fro by the wind.

I am Juan Crisostomo Ibarra y Igsalin. San Diego! Doom of my family! I have returned!


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Noli Interlude: The Maiden 01

 It would not be fair to speak of Maria Clara without first mentioning her mother, Doña Pia Alba. Capitan Tiago hailed from Pampanga, the province north of Manila. Santa Cruz was the affluent district that contained Binondo, where still the de Los Santos family maintained their primary residence. He met her there at some point, and after a brief courtship their marriage was arranged.

It was the marriage to this beautiful woman from Santa Cruz that gave Capitan Tiago his social status and much of his new fortune. He was the son of a wealthy sugar merchant, but Doña Pia was not content with merely buying and selling sugar and coffee. With their conjugal properties they bought land in San Diego, south of Manila, where they branched out to indigo and ranching. There also began their long friendship with Don Rafael Ibarra and Padre Damaso.

Their first six years of marriage failed to produce an heir, almost putting in vain their pursuit of wealth. All their efforts and affluence turned to ostentatious displays of piety, but it was not until Padre Damaso advised her to come with him to Obando and dance during the feast of Saint Pascual Baylon that her womb quickened with life.

And yet, like a person who had longed for treasure so long that once claimed had lost the joy of it, she ceased to smile and became melancholy during her pregnancy. She was often to be found weeping before the statues of saints. A puerperal fever took her after childbirth, leaving her beautiful baby in the care of her humorless Aunt Isabel.

From her mother did Maria Clara take her brightness, her gaiety, her keen mind and perhaps undue willingness to sacrifice herself in silence.

Though it was the expected in those times that women were best suited to manage the home, it was not as if managing a household did not require a good deal of intellect and stubbornness. Maria Clara had been shut up in a convent for several years as well, where she was taught the virtues of patience, of obedience, and trust in that God shall in the end settle all accounts. And that the confession was the balm to all sins.

“Padre Damaso, godfather, thank you for your time and allowing me to speak with you.”

“It is of little trouble, dear child. You said – if I had any business with your father, if I could take some time to offer you my counsel as well? So it turns out that I had things to speak to your father.” His blithe tone briefly turned aggressive, but if Maria Clara noticed, she gave no sign. “So speak, my child, what troubles you?”

“I must confessed I am vexed, Padre. Something Crisostomo said to me –“

“That cad! I will have him in chains by the morn!”

“No, no, nothing of the sort! He was ever the proper gentleman, nothing untoward happened or was said,” Maria Clara hurriedly clarified, “but… do I… do I have the power to place anyone under my protection?”

Padre Damaso leaned back on his chair and rested his chin upon one fingertip. He nodded at her to proceed.

“I know what would be my duties as a wife, and a Christian woman to the Church, but right now… I have no properties, I have no authority. All my life I have been the one protected, not the one who protects. If I were to wish something to be done, I have to borrow someone else’s power – my father’s wealth; your protection, godfather; my safety in the streets from the invisible hand of the law.

If someone calls out to me for succor, how can I grant them food and shelter? If charity be a virtue, how may I help? I am vexed, padre, I am vexed with this question. I have none by myself to give.”

“Has Ibarra asked for your help?” Padre Damaso scowled. “If he thinks to hide behind you for any misdeeds…! I will not forgive such a coward!”

“No, padre, it is not that. Though I worry about Crisostomo in another way too. What has he been doing in Europe that he can say ‘the amount of thirty-two pesos, for those such as us, is trifling’? I know that my father’s business or your own administration moves thousands of pesos without a worry.

But I have never owned or spent for myself anything of the sort. Someday I shall manage such funds without blinking, but now the thought of such sums as a trifle frightens me.”

“Has Ibarra really sunk so low as to ask you for money?!

“No, Padre, in the church of San Diego, there is a debt worth that amount. If possible, I would like to pay it in their stead. In San Diego, there are two little boys who need my help. If it would be possible, I wish for them to be protected as I am protected.”

“Then why does he not pay it himself?! He is off to San Diego, and good riddance!”

“So too, I understand, is Padre Salvi. Padre, my Padre, I must confess – him I fear to approach. I cannot bear the thought of someone else occupying the place in our community you have graced for so many years.”

“I see. Padre Salvi is… young, and for his training still needs seasoning. I can speak to him before he leaves. But why should I, Maria Clara? What do you actually want, Maria Clara? You would ask me hurry – but for whom? What did Ibarra ask of you?”

“Their names as Basilio and Crispin. They are young sacristan. They are ten and seven years old. The youngest is accused of stealing from the offering box two gold pieces… I have few belongings, but if possible, I would pay for it myself. I would grant them shelter and protection until the truth is out.”

“Do not shelter thieves, Maria Clara!”

“Maybe they are, maybe they are not. But is thirty-two pesos really the worth of a life? I am vexed, father. Does Crisostomo mean to test me as well?

I would like to see these boys for myself. I would like to know if I can tell a liar from an innocent. I would like to know if kindness in the right moment can change a life. I would like to know what Crisostomo means – if I cannot protect anyone, does that mean I am adrift? Does he mean to test how much regard others have upon my judgment? I am protected, but am I owned? Does my voice matter? Does… does anyone care… if I beg?

I am protected, but am I owned?! He vexes me, padre!”

“He means to have you thinking of him constantly. He means to keep you intrigued. This is a callow influence of a womanizer. Beware, Maria Clara!”

“… Padre Damaso, I must ask this of you, please protect these two boys as you would protect me.”

“I must refuse this, it is dancing to that Ibarra’s ruse. His plan shall not move me!”

“Please, Padre Damaso. Do this not for his sake, but for me. Please lend me your power, that I might learn the truth of his heart.”

“If you welcome thieves into your household, Maria Clara, you will ever regret it.”

“Please, Padre Damaso. Else I will have to find out what meager power I have to place others under my own protection.”

“I will tell your father not to accommodate this silly notion of yours.”

“If they suffer, then their protector suffers with them. I should say, even now they are under my protection. I have already decided, now only it is a matter of carrying it out. Please, Padre Damaso, allow me to take in these two boys that I must learn what it means to be responsible for others.”

“Girl, cease this silliness.”

“Please, Padre Damaso.”

“No.”

“Can you not do this for me? I do not ask for much.”

“I refuse to entertain Ibarra’s whims.”

“If I do not, then he certainly must have something ready in place. I fear he would mock me. Mock you, knowing that you could not do this simple charitable thing for me.” Maria Clara hid her face behind her fan and frowned faintly. “Ah. Perhaps this is his intent. To drive a wedge between us…? How unkind, Crisostomo.”

Padre Damaso’s grip on the armrest of the narra-wood chair froze. That sounded much too plausible.

“Maria Clara-“

“Padre Damaso?”

“Maria Clara, this is nonsense.”

“Please be my ally in this, Padre. I can depend on no one more.”

“Not even your father?”

“My father obeys you, for good reason.”

“Not even Ibarra?”

“He is not God’s representative on Earth. Christ extended his forgiveness to sinners, if they would but repent. Mercy, Padre Damaso. Please show me mercy. May they not come into harm, may any injury on them be the same as laid upon my body.”

Padre Damaso sat motionless on the chair, brooding as if an ailing king on his throne already contested even as he still drew breath. “Fine,” he spat. “We shall see what happens.”

“Thank you! Oh thank you padre! You are gracious beyond words.”

Padre Damaso raised his hand and Maria Clara reached out to kiss his fingers in obeisance.

“I am the one who is your protector, Maria Clara. Do not forget this.”

“Of course, my Padre. I am forever grateful.”

Padre Damaso sniffed. “Yes. Do not make a habit of this, Maria Clara. My tolerance for your whimsies can only go so far. That Ibarra is not good for you, best that you not think of seeing him again.”

Maria Clara smiled. “I shall keep your counsel in mind, Padre Damaso. If he should test me, then I should test him too.”

“A good Christian woman must be demure and not scheming; Maria Clara, I rebuke you. But in this matter, I also forgive you in the same breath. I am your ally, and your mother’s confessor, and in this I command you – be testful. He is not worthy of you, best you see that early.”

It was the custom in those days to put the groom through trials, in imitation of the trials of Jacob. Padre Damaso’s lips quirked at the thought of what tortures he might advise Ibarra should undergo – trials that were beneath a true-blooded Spanish man’s dignity, but the indio in the mestizo cannot refuse lest he appear cowardly.

“Thank you, Padre.”

Padre Damaso stood up and went off to find Capitan Tiago. The priest continued from before his reprimand that Capitan Tiago had engaged Maria Clara to Crisostomo Ibarra without consulting him. Against said threat of withdrawing support, Capitan Tiago began to falter. Sensing this, Padre Damaso demanded the servants bring out a fast pony-drawn carriage, for he had better places to be.

Maria Clara heard none of this.

She sat by the balcony, staring off into nowhere, and behind her restful expression her thoughts was a maelstrom. Her heart still thundered as with the fear and anxiety of battle. She was not a guileful woman, she had meant every word.

But it was left unsaid whether or not she had enjoyed being tested; being seen more than a pretty face and a wife to be. No one before had laid such a burden to her mind and expected her to solve it by the morn. The sisters of the convent had always said – duty, deference, humility, service, a woman’s lot in life –

“I am protected,” she whispered again. “But am I owned?”

She knew her mother had been called an unusually intelligent and faithfulwoman. Long and in vain had she sought guidance in the lifeless eyes of her mother’s painting. She now wondered only what her mother would have done.


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Noli Interlude: The Governor-General 01

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The Governor-General in this time was Emilio Terrero y Perinat.

Mexico had ever been the jewel of Spain’s crown, but an appointment to the Philippines had its own virtues. Usually Governor-Generals went from Cuba, to a much more restful post in the Philippines, before retiring to Spain.

The Philippines was Spain’s fortress of Catholicism in Asia, and from Manila the Governor-General ruled the entirely of the Spanish East Indies. These comprise the Islas Filipinas, the Carolinas, and the Marianas, and Palau, parts of Sulawesi, and outposts in Taiwan. With them Spain can look at the British in the eyes and claim that the sun likewise never sets on the Spanish Empire!

Damnable tea-drinkers.

Terrero stared out the window and the placid blue waters of the Pasig River, its water lilies and rickety wooden boats floating. Manila’s Thames. Manila was hardly a restful posting.

Emilio Terrero had also participated in the dispute between Spain and Germany of the ownership of The Carolines, which set Manila scrambling thinking that an invasion of the Philippines was imminent. This was not a completely unfounded fear, for the British had conquered the Philippines once before, and occupied the city of Manila for two years from 1762-1764.  The prestige of Spain was no protection anymore.

In Madrid however, the fear and outrage were stronger, and even Bismarck was taken aback by the reaction and put it to the Pope to arbitrate the dispute. It was settled in both their favors, for though Leo XIII decided ownership in favor of  Spain, Germany was also granted free trading rights through all the Carolines and the right to establish a naval station.

Emilio Terrero remembered it more as a farce. The cruiser Velasco showed up at Yap, the largest island in that scattered little archipelago. They prepared a landing party to raise the Spanish flag in the morn, but woke up to find that a German gunboat, the Itlis, had snuck in through the night and then at break of dawn had already raised their flag. In this manner, claiming Yap and most of the Carolines for Germany!

Their reasoning was that the Spain had already abandoned its claim over the past hundred years, only returning because someone else had decided to see valuable what they had long discarded.

The captain, under orders to withdraw if anything untoward happened, withdrew back to Manila and the Governor-General awarded them medals for avoiding battle.

In Spain, even as the Liberal party called for King Alfonso XII to declare war, the monarch refused to take the step further into Spain’s suicide. Meanwhile, Bismarck himself hardly called a collection of coral reefs worth any losses.

Statesmanship prevailed. Both countries had saved face, and when he received word Terrero had to sigh in relief.

He came to the Philippines of a Carlist mind, but seeing the ways of its priests and their resistance to progress, he found himself becoming more and more liberal and in favor of the natives. Spain’s power dwindled day by day, dallying in the colonies instead of working together to strengthen the Empire was not helping.

Though the Lieutenant Guevarra had made good on the promise not to tell, the rumor of Padre Damaso’s insult still Governor-General’s ears. That Carlist sentiment, which he would have not minded but several years ago, now only left him bone-weary.

“How do you know of this?” he asked his aide that morning.

“From Laruja, who mentioned it at the newspaper office.”

The Governor-General merely smiled. “Women, and men who wear skirts, do not cause offense. I intend to live in peace in the time allotted to me. I know he has been making fun of my orders, and when I asked for that friar’s transfer as punishment he was instead given a much better town. Such is friar business!”

“But it is not just that which so excited Laruja. He has stated, it was ‘the most interesting dinner I have had in these islands in years’ and intends to write about it. That wealthy Capitan Tiago hosted that dinner to welcome a young man coming home from Europe, whom has just finished his studies. Laruja was most impressed with the youth, and said – Spain would be most blessed to have him at her service.

He made it even clearer that, even with his little influence, he hopes that even Your Excellency would meet this young man, for his conversation would be most enlightening. He has left this letter, to which he admits having penned in a hurry before sleeping, such was his excitement.”

“Is this young man a Mestizo or a Criollo?”

“A mestizo, Your Excellency.”

“Laruja is a notorious writer who has traveled through much of Asia, it is unexpectedly high praise. Do you have the letter?”

The aide bowed slightly and took out the folded paper from his breast pocket. Terrerro held it in his hands and weighed if he had the time to indulge. Reading the letter, he skipped past the usual honorifics and read what had driven Laruja to dare presume upon his goodwill –

“Why submarines, of all things?”

“Because it is the confluence of disciplines. Metallurgy, electrics, training and resolve! Also, it is a refutation of the idea that math is useless. If you fire off a torpedo, of course you do not aim at where the enemy is, but where it could be. And for this you need to know trigonometry! Let them scoff at mathematicians no more. Knowledge that builds upon other knowledge is just the best. The best!”

To which I asked “But if as you said, if Battleships are a man’s romance!, then why do you want to sink them?”

“Because battleships are the dragons of the waves!” he replied. “Why would I not want to claim the glory of lancing one?

When warships slug out against each other with shot and trust in their armor, so fight they with sword and board. But the torpedo is the long lance – timing, precision, and devastating destruction!”

Governor-General Terrero could not help but to smile, more honestly this time. “’Battleships are a man’s romance?’ What a foolish child, but I cannot fault his enthusiasm.” He looked out towards the sea again. ”It is a pity he is not full-blooded, what this child could have done if born in the Peninsula.”

Tererro y Perinat thought of the Pacific Squadron, which were a collection of obsolescent cruisers and gunboats; half stationed in Subic Bay to the north and the other in Jolo far to the south. If the Germans had decided to attack in 1885, there was little resistance the fleet could muster against the more modern ships of its rivals. Most likely, they would have been forced to cower in the bays, behind mines and adding the weight of shore guns.

They would have been completely inutile in preventing the enemy from making landings anywhere on the islands.

Yet –

“The torpedo boat can be shot, the mine does not move and is a hazard to your own shipping besides, but the mere threat of a submarine in the shallows forces a whole fleet to think twice!”

I have heard somewhat of Issac Peral, though I do not know him. This notion does have the ring of plausibility to me. We already have torpedo tubes in many cruisers and gunboats. There is no need to convince anyone about the usefulness of the torpedo. To say that it is more cost-effective to build a submarine than a battleship for defense is one thing, but a submarine cannot threaten another nation and its interests as well as warships.

In a time of war, sneaking into an enemy’s port is a slow and difficult enough action for surface ships, that if a submarine captain is so adept at avoiding mines he deserves to have that shot.

Yet that idea… that it is only useful for defense… for deterrence against attack from a wealthier power… does not inflame tensions as much.

He rubbed at his chin. “I agree with Laruja. This is very unexpected insight. I can tell he has taken pains to remember this Ibarra’s words. It is perhaps too insightful.”

We played a little game, using overturned wine glasses, which he called ‘Sink the Battleship’.

“Ping. Ping,” he motions “you are moving here at eight knots, your target is moving at cruise speed of fifteen. But you are here because this inlet is predictable. This could be Gibraltar, this could be the Gulf of Mexico or the Red Sea, it does not matter.

What is most important is that you can fire a torpedo submerged. You have four torpedoes. Now the question – do you choose to maneuver in front of the ship, wait for it to pass you by, or slowly but stealthily attempt to strike it asides for maximum damage?”

“Understand the terror –“ he said to us who stood around the table. “If they see you first, you cannot escape; if you miss, they will run you down. You could dive underwater and be safe, but at four knots for however long your battery and air lasts, it might just be a slower and more torturous death.

A torpedo boat commander has speed on his side, he rushes forth without armor in hopes of striking a mortal blow before fleeing. But a submarine captain, though you might think him dishonorable in not fighting in bare sight, can only be the bravest of men. In the cold and in the dark, there is only the purest expression of trust. In God, in your fellows, in the engineers and the technological expertise of your nation, and in your own instincts. Against him there is no defense.

With one perfect moment, he is the slayer of dragons.

Ping. Ping. Slowly you stalk the beast.”

“Why do you make that sound? Ping, ping, like the ringing of a bell?”

“Have you ever heard a whale sing? Why do they make that bassy groan? Why do the dolphins chitter? It is not just because they are happy.” Here he tapped the side of filled wine glass and showed us the spreading wave. “Because sound travels as a wave. The Swiss Jean-Daniel Colladon, 1841, Lake Geneva, sound travels over four times faster in water than it does in air.

And it bounces.  

If you hear a return echo, you will know you are about to run into something. You will know you are about to run aground. I have tested this. In a month, you may seek me out in Laguna, where I will demonstrate this for you with a most cunning device for underwater navigation.”

The Governor-General lifted the letter closer to his eyes. Lowering it, he glared at his aide. “Where is this Ibarra now?”

“With forgiveness, Your Excellency, it is said he is bound to San Diego for All Saints Day. There may be time to stop him, if it is your wish.”

“No… no, that would be too unmannerly. Let him be, until after the fiesta days. My curiosity is piqued, but to meet with myself as the representative of the Crown is meant to be a rare honor. This youth, if he is a charlatan or a spy, I will never forgive him.”

Tererro furrowed his brows. Who should he send in his place? If he were to send a representative of the Navy, already he could foresee that they might find Ibarra an insult – but if Ibarra could convince such a man of his good intentions, then there would be little to fear of his loyalty and usefulness to Spain.

On the other hand, a personal supporter would mean an invitation to prove himself worthy of the government’s favor, an approach likely to garner much more enthusiasm.

He thought back to those crewmen on the San Quentin and the Manila, who in their dallying for the formal ceremony allowed Germany to steal the moment from Spain. These islands bred sloth.

He scowled. His time was short. The priests all made noises here and in Spain about his liberal rule of the islands. He was a Mason, thus they would always be intractable to his reforms. He considered the letter in his hands again. He too could over-reach to his detriment.  Ah, if only he could be so tyrannical as they complained, if he were allowed to make this land as productive for Spain as he believed it could be… if only he could be sure his successor would not so easily overturn whatever reforms he cared to make.

After the dispute in the Carolines had been resolved peaceably, Spain had appointed Señor Posadillo over the Carolines island of Ponapé, or Isla Ascension in her maps. Capuchin friars were sent there to compete with the American Protestants for the native souls. How in July would he find that Posadillo had sent to him in Manila the chief American missionary, a Mr. E. T. Doane, as a prisoner!

Governor-General Terrero’s dull disbelieving gaze could not get any more jaded. This was not something that would ever make him happy, what had Posadillo expected? Terrero had to abase himself and apologize, and sent the American missionary back to Ponapé. There only to find that Posadillo had gone and compelled the chiefs to serve him as menials, for the natives to be formed into gangs and work as convicts, teachers were forbidden, and the priests all attempting to coerce the natives to accept their religion.

So much for trying to advance the glory of Spain.

In this life, he had nothing but to meet haughty idiots one after the other. He was in the end proud have to served Alfonso XII, but the king died tragically early just before the age of 28, soon after the Carolines affair. Now the king in Spain was officially Alfonso XIII, a one-year-old boy, with his mother Maria Christina of Austria serving as regent. The vultures circled. There would be no relief for him in the motherland.

He stared out past the waters, to the opposite bank, the only view to soothe his eyes but a thin park framed by a lightly wooded area. Malacañang was supposed to be only the governor-general’s summer home, when the heat became oppressive in Intramuros during the summer. Yet not since the earthquake of 1863 had the Government House been rebuilt, forcing Governor-Generals to perform official functions within this summer palace.

He closed his eyes and imagined looking past districts of Paco, and Malate, and into Manila Bay, past the ships at anchor to the empty horizon.

And from a distance, he could almost hear –

Behold you, the field upon which I grow all the… f—s… I may give. As you can see, it has become barren.


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Noli Interlude: The Dominican 01

The Philippines had long been considered a friarocracy. Not a theocracy, for rarely even did the commandments laid down by God followed to the letter, but also because the Church was not a monolithic entity. The Catholic religious orders competed against each other, and under the creed of saving the souls of the heathen and the barbaric, each claimed spheres of influence in Asia. Being a missionary required plenty of courage, and tolerance for hardship, quick wit and the ability to pacify quarrelsome natives. And if that fails – then they die, hacked to pieces in some far, wet, foreign land.

But the Philippines was long pacified ground, a Christian bulwark in the heart of Asia. From here, the Roman Catholic Church under the auspices of Spain made inroads into the rest of Asia, a holy dagger to the underbellies of China and Japan.

But at the same time, unlike the Spanish colonies in America, it was too far to command. Where the sword dallied, the book bravely strode into the leaf and bush. Even the government had good cause to be wary of upsetting the friars, for in the words of the Governor-general Weyler:

“ -these people seem to forget that we have established our authority in Luzon and the Visayas by the exercise of moral influence alone, backed up by the parish priest, for as none has such intimate and friendly relations with the people as the priest, so no one knows better than he what the people think, nor is any one better able to give them wise advice, to restrain them, and influence them for good. He alone can make Spaniards of them. By his office and position he is best fitted to make things easy for our minor officials in their different charges and districts.

Remove the control of Religion, and what do you do? You remove the Spanish element, forgetful of the fact that we have to depend on a native army whose dialect we do not understand, and who, in turn, understand not ours; that we have amongst us but a very limited number of Spanish soldiers—this is really how we are situated.

The natives are naturally simple and credulous, and of little discernment; and so are prone to superstition and idolatry, and can be easily imposed upon by any quick-witted impostor who is able to relate strange and wonderful stories. To prevent them being drawn away, the light of the true religion is absolutely necessary. “

—–

Spanish had never really been the official language of the country, actual speakers comprising at most 10% of the population. Each curate ruled his parish like a little lord, once placed little could remove him. They had absorbed many civil responsibilities and authorities, being the only ones who could understand and command the indio. He acted as the intermediary between him and the world in matters both religious and secular.

In essence the indispensability of the fraile was very true, but also in the sense that the government had also given over to indolence and simply not bothered to set up a nationwide bureaucracy. Civil officers and soldiers rarely stayed in the country longer than a period of four years, the priest therefore became the solid, well-organized and dominant face of the regime for the natives.

In many barrios and parishes, the only Spanish authority that could be found was the priest. He could command the Guardia Civil, and interfere in any business conducted by the municipal tribunal. Their approval was required to even elect the gobernadorcillio of the town, without whom taxes could not be collected properly, and who had to mind the patronage they owed their position. Without sufficient shows of respect, a Filipino could not expect to advance his station.

Even so, many friars were beloved by their peoples.

It would not be well to paint all friars as evil, for as many of them indulged in the basest of urges, many more only indulged mildly, and even more earnestly believed they were working for the sake of holiness and improving the lives of their parishioners.

The lands and the numbers of the faithful was finite, however. Each order also had its own character, and thus different motives and approaches in exalting God via the labors of the Indio.

For the moment, let us speak of the Dominicans, who held most important the value of education as a tool for evangelization. They established many schools throughout the Philippines and Asia, and their only real competition in this pursuit was the Jesuits. However, with the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish territories in 1768, it rested upon the Dominicans to hold the oldest continually functioning university in Asia – the Universidad de Santo Tomas in 1611, to be followed by the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in 1620.

Padre Sybila, who taught in San Juan de Letran, was a testament to the Dominican taste for winning arguments and taking a holistic view of the situation. Very early, after saying his mass, he left for the convent of his order, the Yglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo de Manila, only recently reconstructed from the earthquake of 1864.

There, Hernando Sybila met with an emaciated old priest with yellowing paperlike skin, who with thick furrowed brows and sunken nearly glassy eyes regarded him under the scapular of St. Dominic.

“God restore health to Your Reverence,” he greeted.

To which the old priest replied – “Ah, it you, Hernando! They advise me to take the operation at my age! No miracle under God nor the knife do I require. No need for it now! Ah, this country! This terrible country! I have suffered much; I have made many suffer; I settle my debts. I have naught to do now but to die.

Be warned, be warned at my expense, Hernando! Why have you come?”

“I have come to report upon the assignment you have given me.”

“Ah, so what of it?”

“We have been fed fables. The young man Ibarra has far exceeded my expectations.”

“High praise from you, how do you mean so?”

So Padre Sybila recounted the last night; of Ibarra deftly turning around Padre Damaso as a fool, his suspiciously detailed knowledge of the affairs of Europe, his distressing knowledge of matters of military nature, and most of all his uncanny energy and confidence.

“I cannot see it anything but the beginning of hostilities between Ibarra and Padre Damaso. The young man is far too intelligent not to find out what has transpired sooner or later.”

The sick old priest slowly pulled in his shaking hand into a claw, unable to muster the energy to make a fist. “Such a dangerous young man. We have always known the danger of educating them in Europe, and this is good. A strong ally such a mind would make, and an even better enemy.”

“Must it be so? He is engaged to the daughter of Capitan Tiago, who is educated in the convent of our sisters. He is rich, and he should not care to make enemies, lest it cost him his fortune and happiness.”

“Capitan Tiago, such a useful man, to treat all Spanish officials and priests equally… that is, with the simpering servility of the one who does not want to lose even a bit of his fortune and happiness. Could we own that young man body and soul? No, Europe has opened his eyes. If he can be mollified, then good, but he would better serve us as an enemy,” He took a deep labored breath. ”I far prefer the honesty of attacks to the silly praises of so-called friends. The most loyal of our subjects are those who have the least in life.”

“I fear it will not be so simple. Ibarra is a young man with some ability, he can ingratiate himself with the government just as easily.”

“Take this into account – “ the old priest wheezed, “that our power lasts only as long as people believe in it. And if we are attacked, then the government will think ‘they are being attacked because their enemies see in them the obstacle to their liberation – and so, let us work with them to preserve our power’.”

“And if the government listens to them? At times the government is too liberal…”

“They will not!” The government itself was chaos, alternating between liberalism and an iron fist, and the only rational outcome was suppression. The legitimacy of the monarchy that soundly defeated the First Spanish Republic could never be allowed to come in doubt. Even Governor-generals can easily be recalled.

“And if there appears a brave man to take what we have collected, bold and fearless-”

“Then woe unto him! Woe unto them! Better to face this uprising on our terms while it is early. We have worked too long towards our own ruin. We merely delay the end, much as I await the day this gruesome illness finishes my body. We have grown complacent, deluded into feeling secure, when all out there we are ridiculed. We must awake. Else here we will fall as we had fallen in Europe.”

“But – we will still have our haciendas, our real estate – surely, they will know, with these we maintain the colleges that train their children.”

“We will lose them too, as we have lost in Europe. Think of it, the yearly drive to arbitrarily increase the fees for the use of our lands has driven away the Indio to purchase land elsewhere, land too often as good or better than ours. We are beginning to decline –that is why we have not increased our burden; already the people grumble at our feet. And without our riches, we will be unable to prod the conscience.

Let us leave the others to settle their own accounts; let us keep what remains out our prestige, and soon we shall be appearing before God. Let us wash our hands. May God have mercy on our weakness…”

“There is chaos in the government. Spain has lost her colonies in South America one by one, now she must suppress revolt in Cuba, in Basque, in every land she owns. One more in the Philippines shall break her…”

“It must be a clean break, if it must happen at all. It will heal quicker. Best it be soon, that she wakes up to her vulnerability. And then, and then, Hernando – we will be tested! It must be a swift one, for the troops she sends here will be more needed elsewhere. Let the people remember the might of Spain, and they shall not soon again forget to be grateful.”

For however well-meaning as one might find them, all Spanish priests in the Philippines were Spaniards first and religious second. The thought of revolution, of separation from Spain, was exactly the same terrible thought in their minds as the destruction of four hundred years of labor and civilization.


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Noli Interlude – The Lieutenant 01

Despite his advanced age and pure Spanish blood, Guevarra was only a Tiniente in the Guardia Civil, a fact which even the mestiza Doña Victorina felt safe to disdain. Even so, some people had to be wary, for this was a man who had the ear of the Governor-General himself. And so as the feast drew to a close he was asked to forgive Padre Damaso’s outburst.

Three in particular –

First; the priest’s outburst that it is the right of religion, and his right by extension, to cast out heretics. The government has no right to deprive him of this. This was a forgivable insult to the privileges of the ruling class, for it was the wont of priests to always complain. Excommunication was the one weapon the Church had against the instruments of state.

Second; his outburst calling the Governor-General the ‘Calamitous General’, referring to his campaign against Datu Uto in the Rio Grande in Mindanao and his combative stance against the monastic orders. This was a personal insult. His Excellency would simply shrug it off. Only old women cared for salacious gossip.

And third; his outburst that “What King? What nobody? For us there no king but the legitimate –“ was part of the rallying cry of the Carlist movement, refusing to recognize Ferdinand VII naming Isabela II as the heir instead of the nearest male heir, Don Carlos de Borbon, who felt robbed of his rights as the long-standing heir presumptive. This sparked a civil war that lasted 40 years and would continue to be the movement that carries Spanish traditionalist thinking even well into the next century.

Their movement would later be buoyed by the sweeping liberalization that nonetheless would lead Spain into losing all her colonies and ceasing to become a World Power upon the boots of the United States.

Now such talk, this was nothing short of treason.

But instead “I regret such a promise, the sherry had gone to my head as surely has it had gone to Padre Damaso,” Tiniente Guevarra replied. “I know how to keep my word when it does not stain my honor – I am not nor have ever been an informer! That is why to this day I only wear these two stars.”

Such a scrupulously honest man, and yet also powerless to stop the less orderly habits of others wearing the garb of the Guardia Civil. Thus for his face and his uniform, there would be many to think of him as only evil. Tiniente Guevarra did not make any lavish displays of devotion towards God, for he knew in his heart he avoided sinning, but then more would think this painted him less virtuous.

Tiniente Guevarra and Don Rafael Ibarra were kindred souls in this manner, who sought to harm none and did not ask much from God. God had placed them onto the Earth to struggle, but had also given each person the strength to overcome.

As the party wound down and the Tiniente prepared to leave, he was approached by Crisostomo Ibarra. “The hour grows late, sir. Would you mind I walked with you to your home?”

“As it is a weekday, I make the barracks my home. Even at my age I am still a soldier of Spain, young Ibarra. I am not so infirm as to need an escort through the streets.” His voice was only mildly chiding.

“No, no, I would never imply such of a veteran, Señor! I only mean that we could talk about our common interests while we walk.”

“And what would our common interest be, young Ibarra?”

“Justice. Justice and my father.”

Tiniente Guevarra sought Cristostomo Ibarra’s face for any signs of falsehood, and after a few moments assented.

———

They walked down the street known as the Sacristia in those times, because of the entrance to the Sacristy of Binondo Church that faced this street. In the future it would be known as Ongpin Street, for Don Roman Ongpin, the Chinese businessman that financially supported the Philippine Revolution and Aguinaldo’s army even during the American Occupation.

The night breeze through Manila was unusually cool. At that time, Manila was still called the Venice of the East, for its many canals and boats, when the word estero still meant a navigable estuary instead of a black and lifeless sewer outlet. The cobbled streets were empty of people, and only weakly lit by the orange glow of street lamps.

“I can hardly believe that you know so little about your father’s matters.”

“If I had only known, I would have abandoned everything to rush home. But in the last letter from him that I had received… he told me he was not going to write to me further for some time, for he would be very busy. He blessed me and only urged me to continue my studies… ” Ibarra’s voice hitched “He blessed me, and told me not to give any mind, that my studies would be the most important task I could do this life. It has been a year…”

“Well then, it seems he wrote that letter before he died.  Soon, it shall be a year since we buried him at his hometown.”

“He wrote that letter in prison, and I was *ignorant*.  Capitan Tiago has said he would speak of the details of my father’s death only on the morrow, but discreetly I have learned he died in prison. Why was he in prison? I cannot believe my father would ever commit a crime.”

The old man stroked at his graying goatee and after a while spoke “While in truth, a man such as your father is wealthy enough never to need to resort to any misdeeds, even as he was loved and respected by many, such wealth also invited the hatred and envy of many.

We Spaniards who have come to the Philippines are not as we should be. Instead of living as examples to follow, we soon find ourselves corrupted in the country. Here the dregs of the peninsula can come, made easy by the shortness  and cheapness of transport, and find themselves petty rulers. A man so willing to participate in favoritism and fraud can easily find himself wealthy and respected beyond what he could ever gain in the homeland for his own lack of useful ability.

Your father had his own rigid code of morality, and it was this that made him many enemies among the Spaniards and the natives.”

Tiniente Guevarra recounted the conversations he had with Don Rafael. The man did not go to confession, for he believed that recounting one’s sins to a priests and paying for alms and masses and having the priest bless him with forgiveness was not sufficient contrition and would not absolve anyone of sin. He would prefer to redress the hapless widows and crying orphans left by, for example, a murder. It was foolishness to try and salve sins in any way except than to pay it to the ones injured.

He sought to efface himself with good deeds and in some way to compensate the evil that was done by his own grandparents. The wealth of the Ibarras was gained in blood and unfair dealings, much like other new Spanish colonists who, freed from the censures of the peninsula and seeing that the brown-skinned peoples were powerless before them, soon gained an appetite for abuse and aggrandizement.  Indeed, it could even be said that it was the marriage to a wealthy mestiza, that it was that indio blood that tempered the blood of Ebarramendia into Ibarra, down but two generations producing a Don Rafael Ibarra who tried to live virtuously amidst the great wealth and debts owed to his family.

Such a life however also made him appear more aloof and arrogant, and lacking mutually beneficial friendships with the players in the game, upon seeing weakness how enemies suddenly bored out like worms from the woodwork!

“There was a man who was going around collecting dues from vehicles. He was a Spaniard, an ex-artillery man expelled because of his brutality and ignorance. But as a Spaniard, he too had Our Prestige to consider, and was not allowed to perform undignified manual labor. He did not know how to read or write, and to the indios a Spaniard who was not literate was a unique figure of laughter derision. They would give him papers unintentionally upside-down, and he would sign blank spaces with scrawls representing his signature, and knowing he was being made fun of did not improve his mood any whit.

At that time he was turning over and over a paper he was given at the shop, trying to make sense of it, and a troop of schoolboys passed by and laughed pointing at him. He lost his patience and chased after them, all the while the boys while fleeing shouting merrily ‘ba be bi bo bu’, for even they understood the phonetics behind letters. Blinded by anger, he threw his cane , and happened to hit and wound the head of one of them. He caught up with the boy and began kicking him into the ground and none watching had the courage to intervene.

It so happened that your father was passing by. Indignantly he took hold of the collector’s arm and began to scold him. Seeing red, the collector made as to hit your father, but with his own strength your father gave him no chance. Some say he hit the collector, some say he merely pushed him away; but what happened is that the man tottered back and fell, hitting his head upon a stone. Your father took the wounded child and took him to the courthouse. Of the fallen ex-artillery man he gave no mind, but he died soon after.”

“I see,” said Ibarra, “if it is accidental, then it cannot be murder, for murder requires intent. Yet a man has died, and I believe that my father would not consider it right that he simply be given leave for his money.” The young man looked pensive, and Gueverra wondered if his kindness would be superior even to his father, for with the slight scowl on his face the young man seemed to find his father’s actions lacking.

Would he have seen it fit to try and save both?

“Indeed, for as soon as your father was put into prison, enemies came out and rained calumnies upon him. He was accused to being a subversive and a heretic. Now, being called a heretic is bad enough in a province where the alcalde makes a show of being pious- but a subversive is worse than even killing three tax collectors who do not know how to read or write. Everyone deserted him, and they collected his papers and books and used them against him no matter how tenous the connection.

He was accused to subscribing to the Correo de Ultramar, and of newspapers in Madrid, of sending you to Swiss Germany; of having in his possession papers, letters and photograph of a priest sentenced to death-“ perhaps one of the three priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, accused of being part of the 1872 Cavite mutiny, they were executed through garrote, a slow and torturous end “and I don’t know what else. His character they even impugned for wearing the barong despite his heritage as a peninsular – even humility and frugality became a sin in their eyes!

Had your father been anyone else, he would have soon been released. But his wealth, his confidence in justice and the hatred of anything not lawful lost him his cause. At your father’s behest I approached a famed lawyer, and though he took charge brilliantly and masterfully the case, the accusations and false witnesses were without number. As he cleaned one for their contradictions, another would appear.

The accused your father of having unjustly appropriated large tracts of land, that he had rapport with the tulisanes for the protection of his crops and animals, and many demanded from him indemnification for damages and losses, that they would no longer have to pay to him the debts they owed. Such was the matter gone so embroiled that even the alcalde had to leave his post, and his replacement who was reputed to be righteous stayed only one month, and the his successor loved good horses too much.”

The Tiniente raised his gnarled hands to the air and shook it at the moon. “And yet – and yet – when it was all about to come to close and he was about to be acquitted of the false charge of being an enemy to the motherland… the suffering, the frustration, the sight of so many liars and ingrates corroded his health… and he died there, alone, with no one to tend to him.”

The old man went silent. They had walked far. They were in sight of the barracks.

“I should have been here,” said Ibarra.

“You had no way to know, and your father did not want you to know. Young Ibarra, in this you are blameless. And I must warn you, not to be unwise. For in the face of the law, no one is responsible for your father’s death… instead, they would mock you, for if truly he was an innocent man, he should have survived.

There is no one you can accuse, and to pursue each false witness would tie you up in court even more, such a greater waste of good money I cannot say exists.”

Juan Crisostomo Ibarra nodded. “I know. How I know! There is no justice in the courts, and vengeance is no justice.”

“I cannot tell you what to do. You must ask Capitan Tiago for the details, now I must see if anything has happened here in my absence. Be well, young Ibarra!” They clasped hands, and bade each other farewell.

Ibarra stood alone by the streets for a long while, long enough that a passing robber might consider him a fair mark – even more so since he was within proximity of the Guardia Civil, for in that time no greater brigand existed in those islands.


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Noli 1.4 More Calmly, Maria Clara

(source:http://www.vintersections.com/2009/08/gantimpala-theater-presents-kanser-noli.html)

It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice.
– Jose Rizal


Thusly separated, Maria Clara is given time to be introduced gaily by her proud father to the visitors, and unconsciously but swiftly to take over as the focal point of the gather. And well is it deserved! She does not have Capitan Tiago’s small eyes, but wide ones with long lashes shining with honest feeling. It proves hard not to be entranced, for even when greeting a Sangley trader she shows only interest and respectful courtesy. She brims over with curiosity at the exotic accents of his garb.

Doña Victorina fusses over her, while Padre Damaso stands beside her with a blessed smile. Padre Sybila, that pretty debater addresses her and from her smile and it appears he has drawn her into a conversation. I have already withdrawn, content merely to watch from a distance. I look past the people in the middle of the room towards the other person similarly contemplating her luminous presence. He is a young Franciscan friar, emaciated and pale.

Our eyes meet. He looks away, discomfited. Lancing across the distance, there is only my murderous intent.

This person is Padre Salvi, Padre Damaso’s replacement as curate of San Diego.

And by Rizal’s words, the person who in the end will conspire to have me killed. Who will blackmail Maria Clara with the knowledge of her true parenthood, to take the letters of love and longing as I had sent her as somehow evidence to seize and arrest me as a subversive. And in the end, to forcefully seize Maria Clara’s maidenhood, in that convent where she had thought herself safe away from the cruelty of the world. Repeatedly, he will turn Maria Clara’s blessed beauty into her life’s curse.

I close my eyes and lean back upon the windowsill. Likewise I shiver. But it would not be just to kill a man for sins he has yet to commit.

I now know that Capitan Tiago and Padre Damaso also slake their lusts through coercion. Even if less with violence, but through the fear of their position, the act loses none of its horror. In this time, there is no such thing as the protection of law for young native women. Who will they report it to? The Guardia Civil? The priests and the cabeza de barangay appoint their officers!

As if sensing my bitterness, Googol the dog approaches and barks at me.

The bodiless spirit [Googol] flashes a box in my vision, and letters fill out automatically.

No, I do not want a Death Note.

Let me verify. Yes, it remains fictional.

I could probably count in one hand the celibate priests in this land. If I were to start poisoning people for their sins, perhaps I would depopulate most of the principia responsible for national administration. Though I suppose this remains the same for politicians of any era.

————–

“Don Crisostomo, if you would allow you me to speak with you?”

I open my eyes to see the blond young travel writer from earlier. “Señor Mata. Of course.” I smile. “Did you know your name means ‘eye’ or ‘to be awake’ in Tagalog? A most auspicious sign.”

“Thank you, I have been informed so by Señor Laruja on our journey here. Señor Ibarra… I must say I have been very impressed by the depth of your knowledge. I did not expect…” here he catches himself, for to call me but a mestizo would spurn how my Spanish heritage seems to prominent “I did not expect seven years in Europe to have such an influence. Truly, you inspire me!”

“You are too kind, Señor. You have taken this journey too of your own volition, that bravery and hunger for knowledge makes us kin.”

“It does, it does, does it not?” he laughs. “I would like to ask you a question…”

“What do you wish to know?”

“Two questions, actually. Have you always been so inquisitive? How do was your education here in comparison to Europe?”

“I have deeply benefited from my education here, at the firm but careful instruction of our esteemed friars. But of course, as you understand, there was less emphasis on education in the sciences. Science is moving much faster than we can print our textbooks. A grounding in philosophy and law is a good foundation for any enterprise.”

“So how did it come to be? How did you so extensively acquire so much knowledge? What is it that makes you different?” What makes us so different?; he wants to ask. We are close to the same age; why is it that a pureblood Spaniard as he must feel envy?

“… a monomaniacal focus, I believe. A shameless curiosity and a hoarder’s instinct for trivia. Of my fellow students in Madrid, I have seen no few forego friendships and luxuries and leisurely pursuits to advance their studies. But it is my mestizo heritage” here I breach the topic he obviously wants to discuss “that allowed me to see that marks and accolades from academia were only temporary badges.

Knowledge is more than just names and figures and explainable concepts. Knowledge… true knowledge, is a recognition of *patterns*. Too often we think of each discipline as worth focus in themselves, that it takes too much effort to be good at everything… better to be a master at one than to have reliable expertise in none.

But if you think about how advances in one discipline can further assist another, the patterns will begin to lock in. In truth, it was really was submarines that captivated me. A complex machine, a confluence of disciplines, both mechanical and martial.” Here he snickers, for during our conversation at the table, I had not disguised the childlike love I had for the concept of submarines. “A fleet of them would require less metal than a battleship, yet each of them a threat to the strongest of capital ships. And to fight them, the only thing you can do is to make small torpedo-boat and submarine destroyers that have to be fast with light armament and practically no armor… for you need a great many of them to escort and screen your battleship.

Thus the mere *existence* of your submarine threatens your enemy to spend greatly on ships, draining their economy. It is a magnificent counterforce. And I thought, how could I build one? How could I own one? I cannot join the Navy, I have my responsibilities as a future landowner… as I learned more about the difficulties, I fell into despair.

But every piece of knowledge fits into something in the larger pattern. Even useless bits of knowledge can give insight to a person’s mind. It was the knowledge that we had no industry here, a mostly unskilled labor force, that prompted me to look deeper into simpler means of manufacturing and the practical knowledge of how to craft engines and simple labor-saving machines.

And I thought; there is no harm in this. Technology such as this could make money.”

With widened eyes Julian Mata looks up at me. “Truly, I have underestimated you, Señor Ibarra! You are more than an inspiration! This insight you have! Are you not any less than a genius?!”

“Genius knows no age, nor race, nor sex, nor age” I reply. “But do not also underestimate how much genius is about a consistent work ethic with enough emotional distance. Talent alone can bring you so far, the great many prodigy is wasted and burnt out early, never to realize their true potential.”

“E-earlier, we have been discussing, if the Indio is indolent by nature or if it is our responsibility to have instructed them wrongly. I hope you will forgive, I offer no insult, but as a mestizo you have proven well to me the truth of the latter.” At my gracious nod, he continues “I must ask – what do you think? Is the Indio really indolent by nature?”

I look past him, my thoughts running together. This I did not ask [Googol]. This is my own judgment as Crisostomo Ibarra, a man of these times.

“The Indio is indolent because effort affords him not. He exerts no further because he has nothing to prove.”

“So you agree with me then.”

“First I must say that for this point I do not need to differentiate between the negrito, the indio, the mestizo, and even the insular, when I speak of the Filipino. If the Indio is lazy, then how much more would it show as lazy those who do no work by their hands but amass wealth from the work of others? If you say that administration and the burdens of rulership take their own hard effort – you are correct. This is the crux of the error, that people separate physical effort and mental effort as if both cannot be difficult on their own. You and I, there would be many who could call us indolent dreamers, but it is not that easy to follow your dreams for a newer world.

But this, I will say clearly: If the indio is indolent, then we are all indolent. Stay and you too will feel it. It is the nature of living in the Philippines. It is both the blessing and the curse of these islands.”

“That… is somewhat alarming, Don Crisostomo. What do you mean? Is there really a curse?”

“The Philippines is the Pearl of the Orient, and like a pearl as long as it is sits safe and protected within its clam it shall not glisten. Only when taken outside of the shell can it shows its beauty. So is the Indio. Take him outside, put him elsewhere, where he can be judged only by his behavior and his actions can bring shame to his people – and he shall prove himself. If he is lazy, he will attempt to be creatively lazy, instead of avoiding work he will simply attempt to do more in less time. If he is a cheat, he will cheat in your favor, should you rely on him to acquire your comestibles. If he is ungrateful, simply threaten to replace him with a Chinaman. His pride will not stand for it.”

I pace around him. “There is no better man at hand you can have than the native… in any place except the Philippines. Because here he will always laze around because only stupid fool foreigners hurry over trifles. Excelling at anything is not going to promote them beyond their social class; great wealth only attracts envy and enemies. The priests have taught well the virtues of humility and duty in the face of God. Three hundred years and seventy years have he passed in this land in this manner, just floating along. Ease off. Sleep. Eat. Be happy. The land loves him. In his home he has achieved peace and contentment beyond understanding.”

“You sound like you glorify laziness.”

“Laziness… or to be more exact, convenience… has ever been a prime motivator for human progress. What is the steam engine for if not to do the work that muscles cannot? Why do we have steamer ships if we were not so impatient? Why do we long for high office and profit in business if not to earn more for less effort?” I smile. “If it is the indio in my blood that loves the rumbling symphony of motor-engines, then so be it. I always want to do more with less effort.

So I looked up methods of irrigation, of trade and business management, and machines for the factories and ships I want to build. With more wealth or machinery, the less a person must directly spend effort to produce the desired result.

It would be so easy for an administrator to take it easy. Simply do not abuse the Indio, and he will serve you faithfully. The Philippines for the past three hundred years has been mostly safe from the ravages of war and conflicting ideologies; here a man may rest easy. The Philippines is a gracious host; she invites us all to take off our slippers and sit in peaceful contemplation of the bond between man and God in a rocking chair.”

“So, do you believe that the indio is lazy, just as everyone who comes to live in the Philippines comes to feel indolent?”

“No, I do not believe the indio is lazy by nature. I believe that the indio is smart enough to do only about enough of the work he is expected to do. To ask him to do more – the way to do this is not to beat him into obedience and fervor. No, this will only inspire resentment, and ever more to get him to apply his wits to make you lower your expectations. In this, I feel it is even more a waste of potential. Nor can you tempt a content man with the prospect of more wealth, for to have more money is to invite more troubles.

No. Instead, you must inflame his soul.”

As said Napoleon Bonaparte, and with this he cut a blaze through Europe. “I see what you mean. That does sound reasonable. I have been thinking of this, I wanted to raise this objection earlier, but you have put it to words so much the better! So how would you ‘inflame his soul’, Don Crisostomo?”

I look past him to see Maria Clara speaking with her aunt. She glances towards me, impatience leaching onto her body language.

“That is a topic we will have to discuss later. Perhaps you would be inclined to exchange letters discussing our interests?”

“Yes! Yes, certainly I would! I see now how you could have acquired such a breadth of knowledge, if you exchange many letters for many interests! It makes sense. Don Crisostomo, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I will not forget this most valuable method you have shown me.”

“And my thanks as well, Señor Mata. It was certainly my pleasure to have come to know you.”

But quickly he leaves my mind, for the weight of hundred years is easier to bear than this stare I feel upon my form. Patience, I must have patience, all else can wait, but every moment stretches longer than a century.

Finally, I see the old woman nod. Lo, what light over yon sala breaks! Not Eimmart, but just as astronomical. Her smile – !

I would burn for that smile.

————–

I will not tell you more about what I feel about Maria Clara because I could go on forever. Our eyes met again and a yawning eternity stretched before us, a painful crevasse as we longed to touch and make sure of each other’s existence.

Our families have always been close, and we were first the best of friends. At the age of thirteen, just as she was about to blossom into womanhood, she was sent to live in a covent to undergo a strict religious education. I did not see her again, and afterwards I too went away to study in Europe. She was cloistered away in the Nunnery of Saint Catherine for seven years. Thus, our time apart spanned closer to a decade.

‘I have always expected you to be beautiful -‘ my eyes said, ‘But today you have made it clear you are the fairest to ever live.’

‘I have always expected you to be handsome -‘ her eyes seemed to say, ‘But I have always feared that you would not see me so lovely when you have traveled the world and met many beautiful women’.

“Maria Clara…”

“Crisostomo…”

“Ahem.”

Tia Isabel, Capitan Tiago’s sister and Maria Clara’s guardian coughed and directed us away from the middle of the room. We apologized profusely and tried to skip away with all the composure we could muster towards the window overlooking the inside courtyard. Tia Isabel’s squinted gaze follows us, ever alert for any impropriety.

Where has gone the easy companionship of our childhood? We have changed from friends into hopeful lovers, but now upon seeing each other it is all we can do to keep from blushing every time our eyes meet. We spoke of sweet nothings to each other, tepidly throwing compliments and accepting them in the spirit they are offered. Let us know each other once more. My friend, my love, show me how much you have changed yet remained the same.

“Crisostomo…”

“Ma-” I clamp my mouth shut. She giggles, hiding her face behind her fan.

“How have you not forgotten me? You have gone abroad in so many trips, seen so many great cities, and beautiful women! Surely, you could not have been thinking of me always.”

“Maria Clara, I could never forget. Think you that I would betray such a sacred vow? Do you remember – that night, that stormy night, when you found me weeping at my mother’s deathbed? You approached me, and laid your hand on my arm, and said, ‘you have lost your mother- I have never had one’ and wept with me. She loved you like her own daughter, as we wept together, there I swore I would love you and make you happy no matter what Heaven had in store for me. And there, through flashes of lightning, I swear I could faintly see a smile on the pale features of my mother’s corpse. Maria Clara!

Ever you have been my savior, in the desolation and loneliness of the soul in those foreign lands. I could hear your voice whispering in the valleys, and in the mists I could almost believe your touch. Maria Clara, never, never.”

Never, never, shall I allow sadness to crease your face. Not in this life. It is all I can do not to say ‘Come away with me, Maria Clara! Let us go somewhere else; to Europe, to the United States! Let us go, and let this nation earn its own freedom, I spurn this power, let us be elsewhere and be happy!’

But you would refuse me, wouldn’t you? Because such kindness you have, you would not abandon anyone if you knew you could help them. That is what I love most about you. You deserve a better fate than what Rizal bestowed upon you.

“I too have never forgotten you – even if my confessor bade me to do so, and imposed many penances. I remembered our games, and you were always so slow, and would lose our games, and I would try not to hit you so hard. You would always try to cheat more than I did, and we would end up in scuffles. We were so young! When I recalled it in the darkness of the cloister, I was almost in tears. I missed you so much, Crisostomo, I missed having you to quarrel with, I missed having you to laugh with.”

Maria Clara, oh my love, it is only now I have the word. To everyone else you were always such the proper little girl. Only to me would you show your true face,  my glorious angel.

“Do you remember that time you were so angry with me? We were still children and we had gone with your mother to bathe in the creek under the shades of think bamboo. On the banks grew many flowers and plants whose strange names you told me in Latin and Spanish, for you were even then studying in the Ateneo. But I paid you no attention, for I was occupied chasing after dragon-flies with bodies like needles and butterflies in all colors of the rainbow. I tried to catch them in my hands, or the little fish that slipped among the moss and stones by the edge of the waters.

You left me alone, and then returned with a crown of leaves and orange blossoms, and laid upon my head and called me Chloe.”

I thought at the time, it was specially apt; not just Chloe as the blooming Demeter, daughter of Rhea, but mostly in the story of Daphnis and Chloe.

“But your mother snatched away my crown and after mashing it with the stone mixed it with the tree bark which she was to use as a shampoo for our heads. And how tears came to your eyes and you said she did not understand mythology. But ‘Silly boy,’ she said. ‘See how sweet your hair will be then’, and I laughed and you were so offended you would not speak to me for the rest of the day.

On the way back to town, with the sun shining hot above our heads, I picked up some sage leaves that grew beside the path and gave you them to put under a hat so you would not get a headache. You smiled and held my hand and so we made up.”

I beam and take out my wallet, and show her a piece of paper within which were wrapped some dried, blackened aromatic leaves. “Your sage leaves,” I say. “As you have kept the memory close to your heart, so have I kept all that you have given me.”

My heart sings in exultation, for as she takes from close to her bosom a little pouch of white satin. “I have kept this close always to my heart. Do you know what it is?”

I shake my head. “It is the letter of farewell, the alibis of a deficient debtor.” She chides me for not sending her any more letters, but it was forbidden to allow the outside world to provide distractions in the convent. “I would read it to you, but not here. I will be kind enough not to air your private thoughts in public.”

I close my eyes. In another life, I would have been consumed with worry, as the contents of said letter would have struck me as a dagger unto the heart about my filial responsibilities.

‘My father wishes me to go away, in spite of all my pleadings. ‘You are a man now,’ he told me, ‘and you must think about your future and about your duties. You must learn the science of life, a thing which your fatherland cannot teach you, so that you may some day be useful to it. If you remain here in my shadow, in this environment of business affairs, you will not learn to look far ahead. The day in which you lose me you will find yourself like the plant of which our poet Baltazar tells: grown in the water, its leaves wither at the least scarcity of moisture and a moment’s heat dries it up. Don’t you understand? You are almost a young man, and yet you weep!’ 

These reproaches hurt me and I confessed that I loved you. My father reflected for a time in silence and then, placing his hand on my shoulder, said in a trembling voice, ‘Do you think that you alone know how to love, that your father does not love you, and that he will not feel the separation from you? It is only a short time since we lost your mother, and I must journey on alone toward old age, toward the very time of life when I would seek help and comfort from your youth, yet I accept my loneliness, hardly knowing whether I shall ever see you again. But you must think of other and greater things; the future lies open before you, while for me it is already passing behind; your love is just awakening, while mine is dying; fire burns in your blood, while the chill is creeping into mine. Yet you weep and cannot sacrifice the present for the future, useful as it may be alike to yourself and to your country.’ 

My father’s eyes filled with tears and I fell upon my knees at his feet, I embraced him, I begged his forgiveness, and I assured him that I was ready to set out—’

The memory of these words sends fiery lightning down my spine.

The day after tomorrow, it is the Day of the Dead, and nowhere can I light candles for my father’s soul. The horror of my father dying alone would have consumed me, the shame of all but abandoning him to my own gratification in Europe, it would have burned enough that I would cut short our sweet meeting. I watched my mother die, and for all that it pained me to see her corpse never to open eyes again, now I am alone. I would have rushed home to tend to my duties.

But it is too late, too late! Now I know my father’s bones have been exhumed months ago, and cast into the waters.

“Maria Clara, you know – that I must go to San Diego, for soon it shall be All Saint’s Day. It is up to your father to decide if your family shall spend the fiesta days there. This is a duty I cannot abandon, much as I might wish to remain here and spend time with you, and to speak with others about our common interests.”

Maria Clara cries out “Crisostomo, I will beg my father, and surely we shall meet again in a few days. I do so wish I could be there with you as you lay flowers upon your parents’ tomb.” I am an orphan now, and her heart aches for those departed who she too loved as much as her own parents. She had never known her mother, and my own she considered closer to her heart as such than Tia Isabel who raised her. Where Capitan Tiago doted on her, in my own father she saw the picture of a reticent father who carefully dispenses wisdom.

“Maria Clara, I have to ask from you a great favor-“

“Then only speak, and if it is in my power to do so…” and here her cheeks pink, “and if it is not too improper, I shall grant it, Crisostomo.”

“Ask me not how I know this, but somewhere in San Diego are two young sacristan, two young boys aged ten and seven. They are named Basilio and Crispin, the children of Sisa and Pedro. The youngest shall be accused of stealing church money. He did not, but it will not save him. To you and I, an amount of thirty-two pesos would be trifling, but it is not worth a boy’s life. So I beg you this – Maria Clara, I beg you to put these two boys under your protection. What I ask, Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi might question or defer, but from from you they will deny nothing.”

“Crisostomo?”

“Maria Clara, my dearest, weep not before the Virgin. You have within you a power you do not yet care to acknowledge. I beg you, my angel, to move forth and with an ease that might surprise you, save the lives of the innocent.”

Maria Clara’s ever-honest eyes narrow at me. I shiver. That look on her face, I love that too.


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Noli F.A.Q

1. Is this even legal?

A: Of course it is. Copyright for Rizal’s works expired way back in December 30, 1946. It is now public domain. The method is very much like Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – we now have an old established property that is owned by collective humanity, and then play around with it.

Or perhaps a similar transformative effort: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It started a fun little  mashup of a book, became a movie.

2. Light Novels? Aren’t they anime?

A: Not at all, though they are usually turned into one. This project is technically an illustrated novel, but I have chosen the ‘light novel’ bracket because the light novel has certain aesthetics and conventions different from more serious novels.

I do plan on having this novel contain illustrations instead of just old photographs, but better to focus first on completing the work before embellishing anything.

The art style does not necessarily need to look anime. Light novels are not called such for their illustrations, as might the illuminated manuscripts of old, but for their lighter, easier language.

3. Why are you asking for money before the novel is even complete?

A: Proofreading, commentary, fact-checking and suggestions on what measures Ibarra could take would also be very welcome.

But if asked, ‘Do you actually need the money?’, pride is useless, yes. Every little bit helps greatly. There are many surprising costs to writing this that needs to be defrayed, and so much information that needs to be sifted through. I would even very happily accept donations in the form of pertinent books.

Please support my efforts at https://www.patreon.com/noli_mi.

4. Hey, I saw this story somewhere else. What’s different between this version and that one?

A: The pre-reader versions outside of Patreon or this site have not yet been proofread. The fixed versions you see here also usually have up to fifty percent more content.

5. Isn’t this a bit insulting to Rizal’s memory?

A:  A lot of people have already tried to remake the Noli and the Fili. This much less serious take on the concept is well past due. I can only hope I don’t end up lynched by my old history teachers.


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Noli 1.3 A Dinner Conversation

Postmodernism was a reaction to modernism. Where modernism was about objectivity, postmodernism was about subjectivity. Where modernism sought a singular truth, postmodernism sought the multiplicity of truths.
– Miguel Syjuco

There was not much time for us to converse, for shortly the dinner bell sounded. Yet in that time I felt I had made some useful new acquaintances and promises to call upon their homes (and vice versa to my own in San Diego).

Jose Tayunco was the son of a printer; Raul Perez Urdaneta was the son of an officer in the Guardia Civil Veterana, the urban gendarmerie of Manila; Felix Romano, a painter; and specially the strange young poet Andrade who was jailed for writing in his poem ‘the son of a lion is still a lion‘, the slogan of the Spanish Republicans.

Ah, the Spanish Republic. We already know of the Carlist Wars, in which Infante Carlos of Spain sought to claim the throne of Spain after the death of his older brother King Ferdinand VII in 1833. At that time, Isabella, who had displaced him in the line of succession, was only three years old.

Isabella became head of state when the Cortes, long exasperated with the civil wars and the insolvency of the government caused by said wars, declared that rather than another regent the 13-year old Isabella was of age to rule. Spain at this time had long ceased to be a direct monarchy, but its Prime Minister and head of the Cortes was called President of the Government, and he was the one called to form the means of its rule. Isabella’s power was to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and thus the shape of the government as a whole.

Unfortunately, rapidly she was inundated by competing courtiers and ideological influences, and her rule was wracked with civil wars, coups, assassinations, and scandals.

Isabella had a tendency of vacillating between the liberal and the radical, appointing and sacking Prime Ministers and thus directions of government in succession, alienating moderates and those hopeful for lasting working reform, until opposition to her policies finally crossed faction lines.

She was deposed in the Glorious Revolution in 1868.  The Cortes sought a more moderate king, and thought that Amadeo of the House of Savoy could serve; he had less political baggage and was known for his liberal views.

Amadeo I, son of the King of Italy, was rapidly thrust into the plotting and instability of Spanish politics. A Carlist uprising erupted again, and in February 1973, he decided to abandon the whole thing declaring the people of Spain to be “ungovernable”, leaving the Carlists and Republicans to battle over the forlorn pieces of their nation.

The Republicans won. The First Republic, in 1873, which lasted from February 1873 to December 1874, an ambitious yet poorly structured attempt at allowing federalization.

Then they too were thrown off with the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty under Alfonso XII, Isabela II’s son. Who has just died in November 1885. And now, once more, Spain is to be ruled by an infant.

It seems the only reason Spain has not exploded yet again is because the people have finally become tired of war.  Ah pitiful Mother Spain. No, your hopes in the next more liberal republic will only show them to be a spirited yet ineffectual crop as bad as anything your old monarchy. Yet the death of this Empire has been long and torturous, I wonder if I have a right to delay you the release from your own misery. Your colonies, rather than your pride, has become the millstone about your neck.

You remain nearly bankrupt, but you send to the Philippines nearly a million pesos a year in administrative costs and get in tax retuns barely a trifle more. Cuba is a massively more important and profitable territory, yet it would pull you into the war that would end your life as a Great Power.

It is odd, to think of Spain in such terms while standing in this land which had long feared Spain as a monolithic power of guns and crosses, but España had never really been a very united kingdom.

To the Philippines, Spain is a shockingly liberal land. Eagerly I was asked about what it was like in the ‘mother country’, and well if you could look past the constant quarrels it was a place of bravery and intellectual profusion. Certainly not far behind the rest of Europe and America; hers is the gateway! She still straddles both sides of the world, and benefit from two cultural spheres!

The interests of these young men I piqued by saying that through my time in Germany I had also spent translating the works of Verne and Mark Twain into Spanish. Perhaps if time permitted, we could meet again, and not only would I share some of the books I had commissioned to be printed, I challenged them all to a simultaneous game of chess.

They looked amused at my challenge but were willing to oblige. A La Liga Filipina this was not yet, but I had more to introduce to them before we could speak more openly of challenging the status quo. In Spain, we youth had the hobby of spending our free time practicing fencing and shooting, here a suspicious past-time. Oh but a plague I would unleash upon the idle young men of these lands. A tabletop menace.

But now it is time for dinner. We sit around a long table, draped with white cloth. A large carafe of the tinola which I had not tasted for years was brought out, and servants ladled into each person’s bowls. As the works of Rizal had predicted my bowl held the choice meats while Padre Damaso somehow ended with the neck and meatless wings of the chicken. He scowls with dissatisfaction and drops his spoon noisily upon his plate.

He is angry, because he considers himself a Very Important Person, and it was the custom to offer important personages the best hospitality of the house. And long had he presumed upon the high esteem of this household.

Señor Laruja, a short man with a whisker sideburns and a large nose almost unto Cyrano asks me “How long have you been away from the homeland?” I knew him already as a man who thought that there was no creature on earth so indolent, so ungrateful, or so uncouth, as the indio, and I turn to him with all cheer. There is comfort in knowing there was no need whatsoever to make this man my ally.

“Seven years, sir.”

“Come! You must have forgotten her, then!”

“I would more fear that she sees in me a stranger, sir. These last two years, I was away in northern Germany and in Russian Poland, and thus could not receive any wire from home. It is only very recently that I learned that my father had passed.”

“How did you manage?” Doña Victorina segues in quickly, lest the turn of the topic darken the mood of the conversation. “I would think there are few speakers of Spanish there.”

“Their own language was useful to me, madam.”

“Do you also speak English?” asks Father Sybila. The Dominican had spent time in Hong Kong, and spoke the pidgin English by the natives there.

I sniffed and hung my nose in the air. “By Jove, I should say so sir!” I spoke in the most upper crust of British accents.

“Or I can talk like a Yank, if you prefer,” I say next in a drawl that was actually more Texan.

He laughs. The young Dominican who is handsome to the point of prettiness applauds by tapping at the sides of his bowl.

“Wonderful!” says Doña Victoria, impressed and not a little amused. “Is that all that languages you can speak? You were in Russian Poland, you said?”

“English was a capable bridge there, where German did not. They still speak Polish there. Of Russian, I am so-so.” It is not yet Soviet Russia, there they do not yet learn you.

“After Mother Spain, what is your favorite country?” asks the blonde young traveler, who I now know is Julio Mata, who came here to write a book on Colonial Studies.

“Germany, where I studied, of no doubt, because it has decided to set itself at the forefront of the sciences.”

Rizal did not live to see the First World War, to see Europe shattered by the fruit of the sciences it so trusted. It would shatter their faith in the idea that science and technology could solve all the ills of mankind. They would feel betrayed. The intellectuals led them straight into the killing fields.

“Certainly I have heard that about Germany,” Señor Laruja adds. “But you, as someone so well-traveled, what did you find most notable?”

“In what manner?”

“For example, with reference to the life of the people… social life, political, religious, in general its essence… its totality!”

In another life I would have said something about the ‘prosperities and misery of its people are equal to its liberties or concerns, and consequently to the sacrifices or selfishness of its ancestors’, and drawn biting rebuke from Father Damaso. That it was no worth wasting a fortune sending someone to Europe to learn of something any child knows.

In another life I would have been so affronted and unknowing how to respond that I would just leave in the middle of this dinner. Run away, rather than suffer insult. Perhaps it is within our nature to punish those who dare criticize and hurt our feelings with a personal shunning. That Ibarra, as Rizal has written him, was a very impulsive youth. And it is the way of all who men who live to wish to punch their idiotic past selves in the face. So many things we miss in our springtime and ignorance!

But right here, right now I have a hundred years of perspective. It is said that rarely one is given a chance to make a good first impression, so I shall not waste this moment.

“I should say that Germany is very open to new ideas, its people very welcoming of strangers, and in that the foundation of their prosperity.

But…” here I opened my palms helplessly “I am a young man. So of course what would fascinate me more are machines. Machines and electricity. Mechanization and industry and the unforeseen wealth it brings. Lights and photography! Engines and speed! Ah! The world is changing so fast, and it is dizzying to know how to react to all of this. The cultures that can wrestle with these changes shall reign in the coming century. “

“And you have seen much of this in Germany?”

“Of course, of course! Germany has some of the finest steel mills in the world, aiming to compete with Britain’s expertise. I tell you, I am sure, even now they are building warships that are no less strong than the finest of the Royal Navy’s new battleships.”

Padre Damaso scoffs. “This is not fitting conversation for the dinner table.” The Franciscan jerked his head towards Doña Victorina.

“Why not?” the woman replies. “Machines do not interest me, but this is fresh news of Europe. Do go on, young man.”

“You were but a student there, how can you know this much?” asked the young blonde traveler.

I smile. The world pauses. And it resumes. “Alfred Krupp was introduced to the Bessemer process of mass-producing steel by his London agent and friend, Alfred Longsdon, somewhere around eighteen fifty-nine or eighteen-sixty. After a lengthy period of trial and error, this steel was developed to such quality that the royal factory of Woolwich in England acquired steel from Krupp to manufacture guns that conformed to British naval standards. Also, Krupp was one of the first manufacturers to design practical breechloading guns for army use.”

Faintly surprised murmurs ripple through the table. None seem to care to challenge the veracity of the facts I have so bravely stated. Only an acquaintance to an insider should know this much.

“It is interesting, to be sure, but what else have you learned? Surely that was not why you were sent to study in Germany?” said Father Sybila.

“German ships, hmf. They are not colonial powers, the German Navy is as foolish a thought as a flying turtle,” says Laruja.

I shrug noncommittally. “I will not speak of their naval practices, of which I have no true knowledge, merely that in steelworks, the Germans are among the world’s best. Only the Americans can consistently do better.”

Half the table look aggrieved, the other half appear more excited. “Americans. Too long have they insulted Mother Spain with impunity,” Señor Laruja speaks, wiggling his jaw and whiskers. “One day they shall be put in their place.”

“W-what do you know of the Americans?” Don de Espadaña squeaks out. Doña Victorina’s henpecked husband was a pure-blooded Spaniard who came to the Philippines as a Customs employee. A broken leg left him lamed and dismissed from his post, but even having nothing else to do as a peninsular it was beneath his honor to perform manual labor. It was forbidden! It was suggested that he go off and pretend to be a doctor in the barrios. He is now a quack doctor that charges exorbitant rates in the city.

As shy and harmless as he might look, how many in the provinces had his utter lack of medical knowledge harmed? Now he is trapped in a marriage with his wealthy mestiza wife. A trophy husband, as far as that may go.

“It has been but two decades since they shot themselves in the heart over the issue of slavery, which we have never set forth as an institution. They are… unfairly blessed. Estados Unidos is vast nation, larger than all of Europe (if we set aside the icy reaches of the Finns and the Rus), with incalculable amounts of untapped resources. They are protected by two unbreakable shields – the distance of the Pacific to their West, and the distance of the Atlantic to their East. Ton by ton they attempt to craft a Navy equal or superior to even that of the British – and I fear they will succeed, because with their wealth they will build themselves a seemingly endless wall of steel and guns.”

I blink and pause the world again.

“In 1875, Britain accounted for forty-seven percent of world production of pig iron and almost forty percent of steel. Forty percent of British output was exported to the U.S., which was rapidly building its rail and industrial infrastructure. But even as convenient as the iron and coal reserves, the United States is an entire continent. These rails, now built, will allow them to massively increase their production. In 1870, Britain production was eight point seven million tons of pig iron and the US one and point seven million. Germany produced one point five-or-six million.

Right now? The United States produces eight million tons of pig iron. Britain’s steel production has plateaued and will soon be surpassed. They cannot meaningfully increase their resource much further. From here on it is quality, not quantity, that will decide, unless the Americans so churlishly decide to do both.”

Father Sibyla quirks his lips. “Point? What an odd way of speaking. One point two million, instead of one and two million. Odd. But I like it. It sounds very definitive. Do you also say… point three, instead of one-third?”

“I regretfully admit that I have that habit, yes.”

“Extravagant lies! How could you even know this?” Padre Damaso interjects. “There is no reason on Earth, no reason at all!”

“I have spoken to people about our common interests,” I reply, “and I welcome anyone to try and prove my figures false. It should be easy enough to verify, if you write a letter to the newspapers or libraries in America. They care overmuch for statistics there.”

“Would you happened to know how much iron Spain produces?” surprisingly it is the Teniente that challenges me.

“Last year exports through Bilbao totaled three point one million tons,” I respond without a moment’s hesitation.

Silence greets the absolute confidence with which I speak these words.

After a while he says, “You are a spy.”

“I would certainly not be a competent one if I admit to it so easily. No, I am just well-informed. Very well-informed.” I sigh and dip my spoon into my bowl of chicken tinola and swirl it about. “And here I will have to start all over again. In the seven years I have been away, now I know almost nothing about my native land and its people. Many are the discoveries I wished to discuss with my father, ah! Impossible now. Impossible now.”

Padre Damaso looks at me much more warily now. I smile back. He looks away.

I lean forward as if to whisper but keep my voice of a normal tone. It is hard to disguise my enthusiasm. “But let it not be said that Spain lags behind advancement. Pray, have you heard of Isaac Peral and his submarine?”

—————-

There is a danger here. What if my knowledge, born in the future, is wrong?

What if the world and the individuals are different? What of the butterfly theory?

What is the mechanism, that we may leverage it?

Mine is the sum total of human knowledge. All human knowledge. Even present knowledge. There is a world-soul, and [Googol] – the interface, not the dog – speaks to it, and to me. And I fear it may consume me.

To you who stands there beyond the gulf of a hundred years, what would you do? We are linked souls, you and I, woven together by this Jungian artifact. But I am not you and you are not me – we are echoes of each other. I am not here to maximize advantages and uplift this world to the level of comfort you expect. I have not lived in your century, though I have the memory of the utter ease by which you move day by day. No king of ages past has ever lived with in such great luxury as you!

To you who stand there at the end of time, the benefit of hindsight is immense. But I ask you to imagine as I feel who stand here at the crux of history. God has given us free will. Yet we scream to the Almighty – Lord! Tell us what to do. Lord! Grant me strength. Lord! Grant me luck in all my endeavors! I surrender myself to you, oh Lord, or to your anointed, that I may have the peace and surety of not having to bear the consequences of my own decisions.

The priests say, do not seek to learn too much, for it will take you away from God. It will encourage skepticism and materialism, and what does it merit to gain the whole world but lose your own soul? I say, too much knowledge can indeed be a frightening object. It is not just there are things man is not meant to know, but that man is a finite existence. The terror of free will and the consequence of mortality is that you cannot try everything.

Too many valid choices only lead into paralysis. The future, I can shape, but in what manner? These lives I can influence, but who is strong enough to carry their fate? Ideas blaze between my ears, one after the other, flickering like fireflies.

For example, with his two novels, Rizal became a martyr to shape the birth of a nation. Yet I know a woman, with seven books, to become the first billionaire through writing alone. At this moment, as a thief of culture, I might be able to write with sufficient factual detail to convince enough people to the point of international hysteria that a Wizarding World exists. The amount of knowledge that I can grasp is outright magical.

Upon the altar of knowledge I need only offer myself. You tempt me. I am the one who stands before the hundred, a hundred branching roads out into infinity, and enough of you whisper – the best revenge is to live well. It is better to laugh and confound your enemies, and take ruthless advantage of their ignorance.

I am Crisostomo Ibarra. I must be true only to myself. Or this will all be for nothing.

—————-

Piano music floats over the living room, and the revelers have been thinned out from those who only invited themselves to be fed. I sit at Capitan Tiago’s grand piano, rather than let it stand there as an unused decoration. I have been granted not just memory, but muscle memory, otherwise most of my time I should spend flailing about in hilarious ineptitude attempting to put theoretical knowledge into practice.

Unlike Rizal, before my sea-change, I was a horrible artist.

The night has deepened, and now those who remain are those who look to be seen and wish for more careful conversation with their peers. Their lips are loosened by wine, enough space has been cleared, and with hangers-on done with dinner only the important people remained.

It was not for these dinner guests that I stayed. It was not for the sake of forging connections that I held my tongue from the insults and the truths behind these smiling vipers’ facades.

Even the fate of the nation remains to me an abstract thing, for I knew that I only had to move very little to see Spain’s authority over these lands come tumbling down, tumbling down. I am Crisostomo Ibarra and I must remain true to myself or this will all have been for nothing.

I speak of the only being on this Earth that can sway me from my goals.

I can feel the web of emotions snap, and the music stops, and all attention is drawn to the stairway.

She appears rising like Athena from the foam before of this throng of Filipinos, Chinese, Spaniards, old women, young men, daughters, and etc., at her approach they open out like the waves. She is garbed in the white, semi-translucent laced gown that is the paean to all femininity, and upon her svelte neck is a string of pearls and diamonds that reflected all colors of the rainbow. She is fair – too fair; her eyes usually downcast and demure reveal a pureness of soul, and a guileless intellect. It is the night, but the sun has risen. The Pearl of the Orient, her most precious treasure, stands before me.

“Maria Clara…” I whisper.

“Crisostomo…” She looks stunned. Her lips part in longing and questions unspoken.

“Maria Clara.” I smile. Never, Maria Clara. Never have I forgotten. I am ever yours.

“Cristomo.” She smiles back.

“Maria Clara!” My heart sings out as I take one step forward.

“Crisostomo…!” She shyly hides her face behind her fan.

“Maria Cla-“

I feel a hand slap upon my shoulders. “And that will be enough of that.” I turn to see Capitan Tiago on the verge of laughter. The other guests have less self-control. Doña Victorina’s scowl is epic in scope. And only in this will I forgive Padre Damaso’s enmity.

“Capitan Tiago…” I huff. Her father’s approval is the only one that matters, as long as Maria Clara does not know this shameful secret.

“Ibarra,” he warns.

I raise both arms in surrender and laugh lightly.

———–

I am Crisostomo Ibarra and to the Angelic Hosts and through centuries I do so declare – I am a man in love with Maria Clara! In this life, this I swear, I defy the fate Rizal dictated for my beloved – in this life, she shall be safe. She shall be happy. She shall not be harmed the envy and intrigues of the scorpions and worms that surround her.

She shall not die, alone and unloved, one more pure soul destroyed by the hand of colonial oppression. I would break the world before seeing you hurt again!

Maria Clara, my dearest, my light! Only grant me your love, and soon I shall be invincible.


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