Chapter 16: - Page 2 of 3

Sisa

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

The dogs howl mournfully in the streets and superstitious folk, hearing them, are convinced that they see spirits and ghosts.  But neither the dogs nor the other animals see the sorrows of men—yet how many of these exist!

Distant from the town an hour’s walk lives the mother of Basilio and Crispin.  The wife of a heartless man, she struggles to live for her sons, while her husband is a vagrant gamester with whom her interviews are rare but always painful.  He has gradually stripped her of her few jewels to pay the cost of his vices, and when the suffering Sisa no longer had anything that he might take to satisfy his whims, he had begun to maltreat her.  Weak in character, with more heart than intellect, she knew only how to love and to weep.  Her husband was a god and her sons were his angels, so he, knowing to what point he was loved and feared, conducted himself like all false gods: daily he became more cruel, more inhuman, more wilful.  Once when he had appeared with his countenance gloomier than ever before, Sisa had consulted him about the plan of making a sacristan of Basilio, and he had merely continued to stroke his game-cock, saying neither yes nor no, only asking whether the boy would earn much money.  She had not dared to insist, but her needy situation and her desire that the boys should learn to read and write in the town school forced her to carry out the plan. Still her husband had said nothing.

That night, between ten and eleven o’clock, when the stars were glittering in a sky now cleared of all signs of the storm of the early evening, Sisa sat on a wooden bench watching some fagots that smouldered upon the fireplace fashioned of rough pieces of natural rock.  Upon a tripod, or tunko, was a small pot of boiling rice and upon the red coals lay three little dried fishes such as are sold at three for two cuartos.  Her chin rested in the palm of her hand while she gazed at the weak yellow glow peculiar to the cane, which burns rapidly and leaves embers that quickly grow pale.  A sad smile lighted up her face as she recalled a funny riddle about the pot and the fire which Crispin had once propounded to her.  The boy said: The black man sat down and the red man looked at him, a moment passed, and cock-a-doodle-doo rang forth.

Sisa was still young, and it was plain that at one time she had been pretty and attractive.  Her eyes, which, like her disposition, she had given to her sons, were beautiful, with long lashes and a deep look.  Her nose was regular and her pale lips curved pleasantly.  She was what the Tagalogs call kayumanguing-kaligátan; that is, her color was a clear, pure brown. In spite of her youthfulness, pain and perhaps even hunger had begun to make hollow her pallid cheeks, and if her abundant hair, in other times the delight and adornment of her person, was even yet simply and neatly arranged, though without pins or combs, it was not from coquetry but from habit.

Sisa had been for several days confined to the house sewing upon some work which had been ordered for the earliest possible time. In order to earn the money, she had not attended mass that morning, as it would have taken two hours at least to go to the town and return: poverty obliges one to sin! She had finished the work and delivered it but had received only a promise of payment. All that day she had been anticipating the pleasures of the evening, for she knew that her sons were coming and she had intended to make them some presents.  She had bought some small fishes, picked the most beautiful tomatoes in her little garden, as she knew that Crispin was very fond of them, and begged from a neighbor, old Tasio the Sage, who lived half a mile away, some slices of dried wild boar’s meat and a leg of wild duck, which Basilio especially liked.  Full of hope, she had cooked the whitest of rice, which she herself had gleaned from the threshing-floors.  It was indeed a curate’s meal for the poor boys.

Learn this Filipino word:

basâ ang papél