Chapter 27: - Page 4 of 5

In the Twilight

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

She was not allowed to finish, for in the corner of the plaza where a blind man was singing to the accompaniment of a guitar, a curious spectacle was presented.  It was a man miserably dressed, wearing a broad salakot of palm leaves.  His clothing consisted of a ragged coat and wide pantaloons, like those worn by the Chinese, torn in many places.  Wretched sandals covered his feet.  His countenance remained hidden in the shadow of his wide hat, but from this shadow there flashed intermittently two burning rays.  Placing a flat basket on the ground, he would withdraw a few paces and utter strange, incomprehensible sounds, remaining the while standing entirely alone as if he and the crowd were mutually avoiding each other.  Then some women would approach the basket and put into it fruit, fish, or rice.  When no one any longer approached, from the shadows would issue sadder but less pitiful sounds, cries of gratitude perhaps.  Then he would take up the basket and make his way to another place to repeat the same performance.

Maria Clara divined that there must be some misfortune there, and full of interest she asked concerning the strange creature.

He’s a leper, Iday told her.  Four years ago he contracted the disease, some say from taking care of his mother, others from lying in a damp prison.  He lives in the fields near the Chinese cemetery, having intercourse with no one, because all flee from him for fear of contagion.  If you might only see his home! It’s a tumbledown shack, through which the wind and rain pass like a needle through cloth.  He has been forbidden to touch anything belonging to the people.  One day when a little child fell into a shallow ditch as he was passing, he helped to get it out.  The child’s father complained to the gobernadorcillo, who ordered that the leper be flogged through the streets and that the rattan be burned afterwards. It was horrible! The leper fled with his flogger in pursuit, while the gobernadorcillo cried, ‘Catch him! Better be drowned than get the disease you have!’

Can it be true! murmured Maria Clara, then, without saying what she was about to do, went up to the wretch’s basket and dropped into it the locket her father had given her.

What have you done? her friends asked.

I hadn’t anything else, she answered, trying to conceal her tears with a smile.

What is he going to do with your locket? Victoria asked her.  One day they gave him some money, but he pushed it away with a stick; why should he want it when no one accepts anything that comes from him? As if the locket could be eaten!

Maria Clara gazed enviously at the women who were selling food-stuffs and shrugged her shoulders.  The leper approached the basket, picked up the jeweled locket, which glittered in his hands, then fell upon his knees, kissed it, and taking off his salakot buried his forehead in the dust where the maiden had stepped.  Maria Clara hid her face behind her fan and raised her handkerchief to her eyes.

Learn this Filipino word:

pakanin sa palad