Memoirs of a Student in Manila
Chapter 2: My Life Away from My Parents / My Sufferings
It is true that the memory of past days is like a gentle balm that pours over the heart a melancholy sweetness, so much sweeter and sadder the more depressed the one remembering it is. Turning my eyes, my memory, and my imagination towards the days past, that I don’t wish to remember for being very painful, the first that I discovered is Biñan, a town more or less an hour and a half distant from mine. This is my father’s birthplace and to which he sent me to continue the study of the rudiments of Latin that I had begun. One Sunday, my brother took me to that town after I had bade my family, that is my parents and brothers [sisters -- Zaide] goodbye, with tears in my eyes. I was nine years old and already I tried to hide my tears. Oh, education, oh, shame, that obliges us to hide our sentiments and to appear different! How much beauty, how many tender and pathetic scenes the world would witness without you!
We arrived at Biñan at nightfall and we went to the house of an aunt where I was to stay. The moon was beginning to peep, and in the company of Leandro, her grandson, I walked through the town that seemed to me large and rich but ugly and gloomy. My brother left me afterwards, not without having first introduced me to the teacher who was going to teach me. It seemed to me that he had also been his. He was tall, thin, long-necked, with a sharp nose and body slightly bent forward, and he used o wear a sinamay shirt, woven by the skilled hands of the women of Batangas. He knew by heart the grammars by Nebrija and Gainza. Add to this his severity that in my judgment was exaggerated and you have a picture, perhaps vague, that I have made of him, but I remember only this.
When I entered his class for the first time, that is, in his house, which was of nipa and low, about thirty meters away from my aunt’s (for one had only to pass through a portion of the street and a little corner cooled by an apple tree,) (07) he spoke to me in these words:
“Do you know Spanish?”
“A little sir,” I replied.
“Do you know Latin?
“A little sir,” I answered again.
For these replies the teacher’s son Pedro, the naughtiest boy in the class, began to sneer at me. He was a few years older than I and was taller than I. We fought, but I don’t know by what accident I defeated him, throwing him down some benches in the classroom. I released him quite mortified. He wanted a return match, but as the teacher had already awakened, I was afraid to expose myself to punishment and I refused. After this I acquired fame among my classmates, perhaps because of my smallness so that after class, a boy invited me to a fight. He was called Andres Salandanan. He offered me one arm to twist and I lost, and almost dashed my head against the sidewalk of a house.
I don’t want to amuse myself by narrating the whacks that I suffered nor describe what I felt when I received the first beating on the hand. Some envied me and others pitied me. Sometimes they accused me wrongly, sometimes rightly, and always the accusation cost me half a dozen or three lashes. I used to win in the gangs, for no one defeated me. I succeeded to pass over many, excelling them, and despite the reputation I had (good boy) rare was the day when I was not whipped or given five or six beatings on the hand. When I went in the company of my classmates, I got from them more sneers, nicknames, and they called me Calambeño, (08) but when only one went with me, he behaved so well that I forgot his insults. Some were good and treated me very well, like Marcos Rizal, son of a cousin of mine, and others. Some of them, much later, became by classmates in Manila, and we found ourselves in very changed situations.
Beside the house of my teacher, who was Justiniano Aquino Cruz, stood that of his father-in-law, one Juancho, an old painter who amused me with his paintings. I already had such an inclination for this art that a classmate of mine, called José Guevara and I were the “fashionable painters” of the class.
How my aunt treated me can be easily deduced from the following facts:
We were many in the house: My aunt, two cousins, two nieces, Arcadia and Florentina, and a nephew, Leandro, son of a cousin. My aunt was an old woman who must be seventy or so years old. She used to read the Bible in Tagalog, lying down on the floor. Margarita (Itay), my cousin, was single, very much addicted to confessing and doing penance. Her brother Gabriel was a widower. Arcadia was a tomboy, of an inflexible character and irritable, though she had a simple and frank nature. The other, Florentina, was a little girl of vulgar qualities. As to Leandro, he was a capricious, papered little boy, a flatterer when it suited him, of an ingenious talent, a rascal in the full meaning of the term. One day when we went to the river, which was only a few steps from our house, inasmuch as we passed beside an orchard, while we were bathing on the stone landing, for I did not dare go down as it was too deep for my height, the little boy pushed me so hard that had not one of my feet been caught, without doubt I would have been drowned for the current was already pulling me. This cost him some lashes with a slipper (09) and a good reprimand by my aunt.
Sometimes we played in the street at night for we were not allowed to do so instead the house. Arcadia, who was two or three years older than I, taught me games, treating me like a brother; only she called me “Uncle José”! In the moonlight I remembered my hometown and I thought, with tears in my eyes, of my beloved father, my idolized mother, and my solicitous sisters. Ah, how sweet to me was Calamba, in spite of the fact that it was not as wealthy as Biñan! I would feel sad and when, least expected, I stopped to reflect.
Here was my life. I heard the four o’clock Mass, if there was any, or I studied my lesson at that hour and I went to Mass afterwards. I returned home and I went to the orchard to look for a mabolo (10) to eat. Then I took breakfast, which consisted generally of a dish of rice and two dried small fish, and I went to class from which I came out at ten o’clock. I went home at once. If there was some special dish, Leandro and I took some of it to the house of her children (which I never did at home nor would I ever do it), and I returned without saying a word. I ate with them and afterwards I studied. I went to school at two and came out at fie. I played a short while with some nice cousins and I returned home. I studied my lesson, I drew a little, and afterwards I took my supper consisting of one or two dishes of rice with an ayungin. (11) We prayed and when there was a moon, my nieces invited me to play in the street together with others. Thank God that I never got sick away from my parents.
From time to time I went to Calamba, my hometown. Ah, how long the way home seemed to me and how short the way back was! When I sighted from afar the roof of our house, I don’t know what secret joy filled my heart. Moreover I used to leave Biñan early in the morning before sunrise and I reached my hometown when its rays already were shining obliquely over the broad meadows. And I used to return to Biñan in the afternoon with the sad spectacle of the disappearance of the sun king. How I looked for pretexts to stay longer in my town; one more day seemed to be a day in heaven, and how I cried -- though silently and secretly -- when I would see the calesa (12) that was going to take me. Then everything seemed to me sad, that I might not see them again upon my return. It was a new kind of melancholy, a sad pain, but gentle and calm that I felt during my early years.
Many things that are of no importance to the reader happening to me until one day I received a letter from my sister Saturnina advising me of the arrival of the steamer Talim that was to take me on a certain day. It seemed that I had a presentiment that I would never come back so that I went very often and sadly to the chapel of the Virgin of Peace. I went to the river and gathered little stones to keep as a souvenir. I made paper fish and readied everything for my departure. I bade my friends and my teacher farewell with a pleasant and profound sadness, for even sufferings, when they have been frequent and continuous, became so dear to the heart, so to speak, that one feels pain upon leaving them. I left Biñan, then, on 17 December 1870 [sic. 1871 - Zaide]. I was nine years old at one o’clock on the afternoon of Saturday.
For the first time I saw a steamer. It seemed to me very beautiful and admirable when I heard the conversation of my cousin, who took me, with the boatman on its manner of running. It was the only one they were waiting for. Two sailors put my things in a cabin and I went to see it. I thought I was going alone, without a companion, but a Frenchman called Arturo Camps, my father’s friend, was in charge of accompanying me. The trip seemed to me very long, according to my beliefs with regard to a steamer. At sea, I remember I spilled the chocolate. Finally we arrived at Calamba. Oh, my joy on seeing the beach! I wanted to jump at once into a banca, but a crewman took me in his arms and put me in the captain’s boat. Afterwards the Frenchman came and four sailors rowed us to the beach. It was impossible to describe my happiness when I saw the servant with the carriage waiting for us. I jumped and here I’m again in my house with the love of my family. Everything was for me joy, days of happiness. I found a little house with lie rabbits, well decorated and painted for the pre-Christmas Masses. My brothers [brother and sisters -- Zaide] did not stop talking to me.
This is the end of my remembrance of that sad and gay time during which I tasted strange food for the first time. . . Alas, it seems that I was born destined to painful and equally bitter scenes! I have withheld nothing important. My situation, how different from that one!
Salcedo Street, No. 22
Monday, 28 October 1878
(01) This so-called “apple” tree is locally named manzanitas for it bears very tiny apples.
(02) That is a native (masculine) of Calamba.
(03) In Spanish, chinelazos, literally, lashes administered with a slipper with a leather sole, a common way of punishing children in Filipino homes.
(04) Mabolo or mabulo (Diospyros discolor, Wild.) is a tree that bears fruits of the same name. When ripe, it is fragrant, fleshy, sweet, and satisfying.
(05) Ayungin is the name of a small (about 12 centimeters long), fresh water, inexpensive fish (Therapon plumbeus Kner).
(06) A horse-drawn vehicle, light and airy.