Chapter 21: - Page 3 of 5

The Story of a Mother

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Vain were her supplications and arguments, useless her promises.  The soldiers said that they had already compromised themselves by having conceded too much.  Upon finding herself between them she felt as if she would die of shame.  No one indeed was coming along the road, but how about the air and the light of day? True shame encounters eyes everywhere.  She covered her face with her pañuelo and walked along blindly, weeping in silence at her disgrace.  She had felt misery and knew what it was to be abandoned by every one, even her own husband, but until now she had considered herself honored and respected: up to this time she had looked with compassion on those boldly dressed women whom the town knew as the concubines of the soldiers.  Now it seemed to her that she had fallen even a step lower than they in the social scale.

The sound of hoofs was heard, proceeding from a small train of men and women mounted on poor nags, each between two baskets hung over the back of his mount; it was a party carrying fish to the interior towns.  Some of them on passing her hut had often asked for a drink of water and had presented her with some fishes.  Now as they passed her they seemed to beat and trample upon her while their compassionate or disdainful looks penetrated through her pañuelo and stung her face.  When these travelers had finally passed she sighed and raised the pañuelo an instant to see how far she still was from the town.  There yet remained a few telegraph poles to be passed before reaching the bantayan, or little watch-house, at the entrance to the town. Never had that distance seemed so great to her.

Beside the road there grew a leafy bamboo thicket in whose shade she had rested at other times, and where her lover had talked so sweetly as he helped her carry her basket of fruit and vegetables.  Alas, all that was past, like a dream! The lover had become her husband and a cabeza de barangay, and then trouble had commenced to knock at her door.  As the sun was beginning to shine hotly, the soldiers asked her if she did not want to rest there. Thanks, no! was the horrified woman’s answer.

Real terror seized her when they neared the town. She threw her anguished gaze in all directions, but no refuge offered itself, only wide rice-fields, a small irrigating ditch, and some stunted trees; there was not a cliff or even a rock upon which she might dash herself to pieces! Now she regretted that she had come so far with the soldiers; she longed for the deep river that flowed by her hut, whose high and rock-strewn banks would have offered such a sweet death.  But again the thought of her sons, especially of Crispin, of whose fate she was still ignorant, lightened the darkness of her night, and she was able to murmur resignedly, Afterwards—afterwards—we’ll go and live in the depths of the forest.

Drying her eyes and trying to look calm, she turned to her guards and said in a low voice, with an indefinable accent that was a complaint and a lament, a prayer and a reproach, sorrow condensed into sound, Now we’re in the town.  Even the soldiers seemed touched as they answered her with a gesture.  She struggled to affect a calm bearing while she went forward quickly.

At that moment the church bells began to peal out, announcing the end of the high mass.  Sisa hurried her steps so as to avoid, if possible, meeting the people who were coming out, but in vain, for no means offered to escape encountering them.  With a bitter smile she saluted two of her acquaintances, who merely turned inquiring glances upon her, so that to avoid further mortification she fixed her gaze on the ground, and yet, strange to say, she stumbled over the stones in the road! Upon seeing her, people paused for a moment and conversed among themselves as they gazed at her, all of which she saw and felt in spite of her downcast eyes.

Learn this Filipino word:

lamán ng lansangan