Memoirs of a Student in Manila
Chapter 8: My First Reminiscence
When I had not yet seen other rivers except the river of my town, crystalline and gay in its winding course, shaded by murmuring bamboo groves; when my world was only circumscribed by the bluish mountains of my province and the white surface of the lake that I discerned from after through some ruins, sparkling like a mirror and filled with graceful sails, I like stories very much and I believed with all my heart everything the books contained, convinced that what was printed must perforce be the truth. And why not, since my parents, who punished me for the smallest lie, emphatically enjoyed me to attend to my books, to read them diligently and understand them.
remembrance concerning letters goes back to my earliest age.
I must be very small yet because when they polished the floor of our
house with banana leaves, I would still fall slipping on the shiny surface
as did the little skilled skaters on ice.
It was still difficult for me to climb up a chair, I went down the
stairs step by step, holding on to every baluster, and in our house as in
the whole town, petroleum was unknown, or had I seen until that time any quinque,
(34) nor had any carriage ever passed through the streets of my town that I
believed to be the summum (35) of joy and animation.
when everybody at home was already asleep, when all the lights in the globes
(36) had already been put out
by blowing them off by means of a curved tin tube which seemed to me the
most exquisite and wonderful toy in the world, I donít know why my mother
and I had remained watching beside the only light that in all Philippine
houses burned all night long, and that went out precisely at dawn waking the
people with its cheerful hissing.
then was still young. After a
bath her hair which she let down to dry, dragged half a handbreadth on the
floor, by which reason she knotted its end.
She taught me to read in Amigo de los NiŮos, a very rare
book, an old edition, which had lost its cover and which a very industrious
sister of mine had covered again by pasting on its back a thick blue paper,
the remnant of the wrapper of a bolt of cloth.
My mother undoubtedly annoyed at hearing me read pitifully, for, as I
didnít understand Spanish, I could not give meaning to the phrases, took
away the book from me. After
scolding me for the drawings I had made on its pages, with legs and arms
extended like a cross, she began to read asking me to follow her example.
My mother, when she cold still see, read very well, recited, and knew
how to make verses. How many
times during Christmas vacation afterwards, she corrected my poems, making
very apt observations. I
listened to her full of childish admiration.
Marveling at the ease with which she made them and at the sonorous
phrases that she cold get from some pages that cost me so much effort to
read and that I deciphered haltingly. Perhaps
my ears soon got tired of hearing sounds that to me meant nothing.
Perhaps due to my natural distraction, I gave little attention to the
reading and watched more closely the cheerful flame around which some small
moths fluttered with playful and uneven flight, perhaps I yawned, be it what
it might, the case was that my mother, realizing the little interest that I
showed, stopped her reading and said to me: ďIím going to read to you a
very pretty story; be attentive.Ē
hearing the word story I opened my eyes expecting a new and wonderful one.
I looked at my mother who leafed through the book as if looking for
it, and I got ready to listen with impatience and wonder. I didnít suspect that in that old book that I read without
understanding, there could be stories and pretty stories.
My mother began to read to me the fable of the young and the old
moths, translating it to me piece by piece into Tagalog.
At the first verses my attention redoubled in such a way that I
looked towards the light and fixed my attention on the moths that fluttered
around it. The story could not have been more opportune.
My mother emphasized and commented a great deal on the warnings of
the old moth and directed them to me as if to tell me that these applied to
me. I listened to her and what
a rare phenomenon the light seemed to me more beautiful each time, the flame
brighter, and I even envied instinctively the fate of those insects that
played so cheerfully in its magical exhalation. Those that had succumbed were drowned in the oil; they
didnít frighten me. My mother
continued her reading, I listened anxiously, and the fate of the two insects
interested me intensely. The
light agitated its golden tongue on one side, a singed moth in one of these
movements fell into the oil, clapped its wings for sometime and died. That assumed for me that the flame and the moths were moving
far away, very far, and that my motherís voice acquired a strange,
finished the fable. I was not
listening; all my attention, all my mind and all my thoughts were
concentrated on the fate of that moth, young, dead, full of illusions.
see?Ē my mother said to me taking me to bed.
ďDonít imitate the young moth and donít be disobedient;
youíll get burned like it.Ē
know if I replied, promised something, or cried.
The only thing I remember is that it took me a long time before I
could sleep. That story had
revealed to m e tings unknown to me until then.
To me moths ceased to be insignificant insects; moths talked and knew
how to warn and advise as well as my mother did.
The light seemed to be more beautiful, dazzling, attractive.
I understand why moths fluttered around lights.
Advices and warnings resounded feebly in my ears.
What preoccupied me most was the death of the imprudent, but at the
bottom of my heart, I didnít blame it.
My motherís solicitude didnít have all the success that she hoped
years have elapsed; the child has become a man; has plowed [sailed -- Zaide]
the most famous foreign rivers and meditated besides their copious streams.
The steamship has taken him across the seas and all the oceans; he
has climbed the region of perpetual snow on mountains very much higher than
the Makiling of his province. From
experience he has received bitter lessons, oh, infinitely more than the
sweet lesson that his mother gave him, and nevertheless the man preserves
the heart of a child and he believes that light is the most beautiful thing
there is in creation and that it is worthy for a man to sacrifice his life
word is derived from the name of the first maker of that lamp, Quinquet, a
Frenchman. Quinque refers to a
(36) Globes were appliances made of crystal in which were placed the vessels containing oil for lighting. They are hung from the ceiling with iron chains.