(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)
Through the dark night the villagers slept. The families who had remembered their dead gave themselves up to quiet and satisfied sleep, for they had recited their requiems, the novena of the souls, and had burned many wax tapers before the sacred images. The rich and powerful had discharged the duties their positions imposed upon them. On the following day they would hear three masses said by each priest and would give two pesos for another, besides buying a bull of indulgences for the dead. Truly, divine justice is not nearly so exacting as human.
But the poor and indigent who earn scarcely enough to keep themselves alive and who also have to pay tribute to the petty officials, clerks, and soldiers, that they may be allowed to live in peace, sleep not so tranquilly as gentle poets who have perhaps not felt the pinches of want would have us believe. The poor are sad and thoughtful, for on that night, if they have not recited many prayers, yet they have prayed much—with pain in their eyes and tears in their hearts. They have not the novenas, nor do they know the responsories, versicles, and prayers which the friars have composed for those who lack original ideas and feelings, nor do they understand them. They pray in the language of their misery: their souls weep for them and for those dead beings whose love was their wealth. Their lips may proffer the salutations, but their minds cry out complaints, charged with lamentations. Wilt Thou be satisfied, O Thou who blessedst poverty, and you, O suffering souls, with the simple prayers of the poor, offered before a rude picture in the light of a dim wick, or do you perhaps desire wax tapers before bleeding Christs and Virgins with small mouths and crystal eyes, and masses in Latin recited mechanically by priests? And thou, Religion preached for suffering humanity, hast thou forgotten thy mission of consoling the oppressed in their misery and of humiliating the powerful in their pride? Hast thou now promises only for the rich, for those who, can pay thee?
The poor widow watches among the children who sleep at her side. She is thinking of the indulgences that she ought to buy for the repose of the souls of her parents and of her dead husband.
A peso, she says,
a peso is a week of happiness for my children, a week of laughter and joy, my savings for a month, a dress for my daughter who is becoming a woman.
But it is necessary that you put aside these worldly desires, says the voice that she heard in the pulpit,
it is necessary that you make sacrifices. Yes, it is necessary. The Church does not gratuitously save the beloved souls for you nor does it distribute indulgences without payment. You must buy them, so tonight instead of sleeping you should work. Think of your daughter, so poorly clothed! Fast, for heaven is dear! Decidedly, it seems that the poor enter not into heaven. Such thoughts wander through the space enclosed between the rough mats spread out on the bamboo floor and the ridge of the roof, from which hangs the hammock wherein the baby swings. The infant’s breathing is easy and peaceful, but from time to time he swallows and smacks his lips; his hungry stomach, which is not satisfied with what his older brothers have given him, dreams of eating.
The cicadas chant monotonously, mingling their ceaseless notes with the trills of the cricket hidden in the grass, or the chirp of the little lizard which has come out in search of food, while the big gekko, no longer fearing the water, disturbs the concert with its ill-omened voice as it shows its head from out the hollow of the decayed tree-trunk.