Garcia Villa, Jose. Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others. New York and London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. Pages 263-285.
The Man Who Looked Like Rizal
The story is shared through Ari Nagaseo
(Author's Note: Doctor Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. Educated in Europe he became doctor, linguist, painter, sculptor, poet and novelist. Upon his return to his native land, then under the sovereignty of Spain, he was accused of sedition against the mother country. He was arrested, deported, imprisoned, and finally shot. The day of his death is observed annually in the Philippines as an official holiday.)
Once there was a man who looked like Rizal. His face had a sad geometry and his eyes were always sad even when he was happy. His hair was black and it was perched on his head like a black mother hen; the hen had one wing spread and it waved like a suspended cloud over his right forehead. He was puny and his dark skin, which was wrinkled as if he had been dipped in glue and the glue had dried, clothed him tightly. When he got angry he remained quiet but his half-decayed, yellow, square teeth chattered.
He was an insignificant person but for his face that resembled Rizal's. He was reticent and restrained and his life beat a dull tempo. Too, he was always sentient of things about him, but whether he liked them or not he assented to them quietly. Sometimes, when he was bathing and he stood naked, he looked at his body and flexed his arms to try his muscles, and when he found that he was weak he cried softly. Then he stood still while he mastered himself and then continued his bathing.
He had narrow, quick-sloping shoulders and his neck was too thin to keep it in good proportion with the rest of his body. His chest had a deep groove along the middle and sometimes he imagined it was a long river that deposited sediment of unrest in him. But if the river between his breasts deposited such sediment at all, it was latent, for he was a very quiescent, innocuous person.
To his wife he was loyal and he loved her as well as the two children she had borne him. They were longitudinal, gluttonous children and he knew they were not good-looking but still he loved them. He thought of them when there was nothing else to think of and it made his heart feel big and generous.
His wife was a short, young woman with a little black mole on the nape of her neck. He loved that mole and sometimes he felt he wanted to touch it to see how it would feel. He thought that maybe if he pressed his little finger to it his wife would be tickled and she would titter. But he was undemonstrative and afraid to be called silly, so he never dared to touch it and his wife never learned his little secret desire.
He had married her young but he himself had been her senior by half her age on her bridal day. It had been a simple marriage, he recalled, for they were poor. There had been no feasting and the day had passed dully but in the night they had slept together. She was still young now although not so light-bodied. She dressed often in green and he liked it for it reminded him of trees. He was a carpenter and he loved trees because they yielded good, fragrant, strong wood. Once he had even told her he wished they lived in the country where the greens were abundant and inspiriting. Here in the city, he said, the greens were expressionless and left a gap in the souls of people.
He told her such things for he was poetic-minded and he had desires that he knew physicalities could not quench. Sometimes he had beautiful thoughts but he lacked the words with which to express them. When he could not say them he touched his hands to his temples and closed his eyes and his lips trembled. At such times his wife looked at him silently, for she did not understand him and even thought he was a little crazy.
He said, "If I were not a carpenter and poor, my hands would be beautiful." He said this looking at his work deformed hands by the gaslight while his wife spread the mat on the floor for them to sleep on. His wife who did not understand him looked at him with compassional eyes and he thought as he looked back at her that she was
beautiful and that she understood his meaning.
One day accident befell this simple quiet man. He was a carpenter and he worked with nails, hammers, and chisels. While chiselling a board the chisel slid suddenly and landed transversely on his one toe. The instrument struck deep and much blood flowed. He felt great pain and fainted and the foreman of the laborers ordered somebody to call for an emergency ambulance. When the ambulance arrived he was put in it and taken to the hospital. There they severed his cut toe completely.
When he returned home his wife blamed him for being careless. She said this weeping but at the same time her voice was chiding. "You had to cut your toe off as if you had too many toes," she said.
"But I didn't want to cut it off," he said earnestly, as if he were pleading with her not to be so hard on him.
When his foot healed he had a slight limp in his gait and his wife told it to him satirically. "You have learned to dance," she said. But he did not mind her, thinking she was joking him. When his daughter reached school age he enrolled her in the district school. He was a proud father and each morning before she left for class he gave her centavos withwhich to buy little things she liked. Sometimes she asked for more and he gave it to her, foregoing his cigarettes for the day.
One day she squeezed herself in playfully between his legs and talked to him about the things they did in class. She said the teacher was a woman who had thin arms but she seemed to know much for she knew every word in the book they studied. How did she know all those, she asked, and he said because she did much studying. "Teachers study for many years and then they teach," he said.
Then his daughter recited to him that c-a-t spelled cat and meant pusa, and b-o-y, boy, meant a male bata, and that Juan, the little brother, was a boy. To explain herself further she said, "When you were young, Father, you were a boy," and he nodded to tell her he understood. She was happy and ebullient and she said she liked going to school.
Then she told him she had almost forgotten the most interesting thing she had to say. "In our classroom," she said, "there are three pictures on the wall behind the teacher. The middle one is big, but it is not very big," she said, "and the man in that picture looks like
you, itay. His name is Rizal, the teacher said."
Then because he made no reply she said again, "You look like him, itay"
Now he gazed at his daughter from the sad observatory of his eyes and she thought she saw a puzzling light in them, so she moved quietly away, turning to look back every two steps or three. When she reached the end of the room she continued gazing at him but still he did not move and she began to have a queer feeling so that she cried.
When his daughter told him that he looked like Rizal the man's mind began to have strange thoughts. He was a weak puny man and his daughter had compared him to Rizal. In his mind the thought started by his daughter created a catena of thoughts. He imagined he was really Rizal and forgot his ugly reality. He became a great man, noble, loved by everybody. "I am a hero," he thought, "and people love me. I am immortal, I shall not die. In dying for my country I have learned to live forever. I am the resurrection and the life." He was a tower of love and from the top he scattered seeds to his people below. The seeds were light and soft and the winds made love to them; they fell tenderly, flower-soft, onto the bosoms of his countrymen. "They take root, my seeds, and I myself become a seed again. I would be a seed and sprout with my children-seeds for I love them so." As he thought these he realized he had become a poet and he grew excited. "I am a poet," he said with trembling lips.
He was no longer the carpenter but a different man. He was Rizal and he felt big as the soul of the man who was shot at Bagumbayan field. He was in a cell and on the morrow he would be shot. "I shall be shot," he said. "I shall be shot and my body shall give forth blood. The blood of my body shall be many rivers of color.... Make the pale flower of my country's soul beautiful. Take me. I am the color and I give myself to you."
He was Rizal and he was a poet. "I shall write poems," he said. His one rough hand clutched fervently an imaginary pen and began moving across his lap. He was writing a poem. He had many songs in his being and he wanted to let them out. "I am a man of many songs and because I have many songs I am a woman. My many songs have made me a woman." How freely his hand that was writing the poems moved! "I am the womb of song and I am filled with music. My songs are only half-born, they are struggling to come out of the womb."
He wrote many poems and when he grew tired he laid his head on the windowsill and thought nothing. He pretended that he had no life now, he was only a mass of flesh and what happened round him did not matter. He was tired and all he wanted to do was to rest.
After he had rested he looked for the poems he had written. But he could find none, not even the pen he had used. And he felt a deep void in him that hurt. He was disappointed that his poems, written when he was a great man, were lost. He wept softly.
He was the carpenter once more but he was sentient that a few minutes before he had been Rizal, a great man. He had written poems while he was Rizal but now that he was the carpenter again he could not find these poems -- the beautiful thoughts that lived in his mind and for which he had had no words, but which as Rizal he had been able to express. They were his songs and now they were lost. "I was a poet and I wrote poems. First they were seeds in the house of my mind, later they became stalks, then flowers. I made them beautiful and they ran away from me. They ran away from me and I cannot find them."
Later, when he got over his disappointment, he touched his hands to his breast and knocked lightly. "Open," he said. "You are a soil, Rizal is a tree and he grows in you. His roots are strong and because his roots are in you; you are strong too. You are a soil that is black and coarse but because there is a tree living in you; you are become beautiful."
He felt tender and compassionate with himself after he had said this and he told himself he was not sorry he was not Rizal.
About a week after, his wife ran away with another man, leaving her children behind. He did not know his wife had run away, he was so latent he came to know of it only when his daughter came crying to him. She told him between little sobs that she had heard their neighbors say her mother had left them for another man. She said she didn't want another man to be her father. "You are my father," she said.
And he took it calmly. He was always passive on the outside but really his wife's desertion made an hiatus in his existence. He loved her and she had run away from him. "She ran away from me but I cannot run away from her. It is because I am breathless, I am breathless with love and I cannot run away. I love her, I love her."
He learned the name of the man with whom she had run away. He was a vicinal acquaintance, a big massive fellow with a quadrate face and pileous arms and chest. Pedrong Sabong the people appellated him. And he was a plumber but he made his money in cockfighting. He was a better and he gambled on the sly. On Sundays he dressed himself gaudily and the women rested their eyes on him. He liked women to look at him.
For a time the man whose wife had left him had the desire to meet Pedrong Sabong face to face. He would get angry, mad, hurl incisive words, use his fists. He would be so angry he would not feel any counterblows. "I shall be like a fortress and I shall not feel anything. As I lick him I shall be a giant. I shall pound him to a pulp. Pulp. Pulp. Pulp." He said, "Pulp. Pulp. Pulp," and he repeated it three times because the sound pleased him.
Then he thought of his wife. She had been good to him and she did her housework well. She cooked with taste and took good care of the children. He wondered why she had left them behind, but after all he was glad the children remained with him. "I love my children," he said, "and I suppose they love me too." He had not been aware of any carrying-on between his wife and Pedrong Sabong. Why did she leave him? She had never complained to him of their life. He had thought her faithful and he was himself faithful to her. She had a little beauty and was still young, around twenty-five was she, and she had a shy, fluctuant voice. Whenever he heard her voice with its little dancing notes, he had prided himself that she was his. "I own her -- her and her body and her voice. Her arms are my lovers and they are not afraid of me. It is because they are woman lovers and they know how to love."
As he thought of her he suddenly rose from his seat and closed all the windows of the house. "She ran away from me and now I am alone. I am dangling in the wind and if the windows are open I shall sail away with the wind. It may be that if I sail away with the wind, out of the windows of this house, into infinity, I shall be running away too, like my wife. I shall be guilty like her and I shall have run away from myself. How am I to find myself again?
Then because the room was dark and the children began to cry, he himself opened the windows he had shut. He looked at his children and asked them why should they cry. "You are young and do not understand, why should you cry?" ran the question in his mind. "You are young, my children, and you should not cry. It is all right for me to cry because I am old and I love her, you see." And he wept silently.
He became tender and his thoughts of revenge fled. If he met Pedrong Sabong he would not get mad as he had planned. He would understand. "She ran away from me because she liked you better. It was not your fault. A woman likes one man better than her husband and she leaves her husband for him. Don't I understand?" He would shake Pedrong Sabong's hands and then there would be no more hurt feelings. "I shall tell him further... to be good to her," and he felt big as his heart. "I am strong and big. Lord, I am strong and big," and his eyes moistened.
The months passed and things began to grow fit again. His children became used to him, eating with him, sleeping beside him, and he bathing them. He became their mother and a happy thought lighted his mind. "I have become a mother," he said. "I, a man, have become a mother and I am proud. I did not think I could become a mother."
His children loved him and he knew it and it made him happy. His daughter who went to school combed his hair for him and taught him the few English words she learned in school. To her he talked about his work and on Sundays they three, he, his daughter and the little brother, went to the district cine together. Before they entered they bought boiled maize, or sometimes peanuts, which they ate inside. He did not know how to read and when his daughter asked him to explain the subtitles of the film he felt embarrassed. He told her they were written in Spanish and in English and he did not understand any of these tongues, so he could not explain them to her. She believed him and said never mind.
They lived in so harmonious a filiation that their neighbors said to each other it was indeed a pity such a good man should have been left by his wife. They said his wife had been senseless to abandon him, him so quiet, so reposed, and who knew; if now she was not repenting her behavior. "She will not come to a good end. Restless woman!"
One day it came to pass that the man who looked like Rizal went to a Chinese store in a near corner to buy cigarettes. He was accompanied by his young daughter and he held her little brown hand in his as they crossed the street. He told her to make her strides big, for look, there was a big blue automobile coming and he told her automobiles ran over children and the poor children either died or became humpbacks or lame or lost their limbs. "I do not want you to get run over by it," he said.
So they crossed hurriedly and went into the cube-like affair that was the Chinese store. On the walls there were nailed tin advertisements of American cigarettes and soaps and they were in colors that glistened and attracted. She looked at these while her father bought his cigarettes. Her father asked for a match and she turned her attention to him to see how he would light the cigarette between his lips. He struck a matchstick against a sulphured side of the box and a pale flame sprang.
He was about to raise it to the tip of the cigarette in his mouth when he lowered it abruptly and looked at his daughter and said, "Did you see? Did you see?" He was pale and the cigarette dropped from between his lips and he stepped limply out of the store.
He had seen a man pass by and suddenly he could not light the cigarette. The man had passed by with his face not very visible from the angle at which the carpenter stood, but he had recognized the wide heavy shoulders and the way the long feet touched the ground.
Pedrong Sabong it was and the man who looked like Rizal remembered the story of his life. There had been a wife with a shy, fluctuant voice and Pedrong Sabong had run away with her, the wife he loved, the mother of his children. Suddenly he recalled his resolve, that he would not be angry, that he would be big enough to forgive. He felt soft and tender and a great well of good-will rose in him. He wanted to follow and call the man. He had things to tell to Pedrong Sabong. "Be good to my wife. She is not my wife any more for she has gone to you... but she is the mother of my children. Love her and do not scold her. I never scolded her yet, Pedrong Sabong. And tell her I... understand. Tell her I am sorry I was... not good enough for her..."
As he thought this message his eyes became clouded and he saw in a hazy blur. And groping for the hand of his daughter he hurried to catch up with the man who was luckier than he. Together they ran after Pedrong Sabong and when they were already only a few meters distant from him the man who looked like Rizal called, "Pedro!"
Pedrong Sabong turned and seeing them his knees weakened. He wavered and a nervous pounding troubled his chest. He felt guilty all at once and he blamed himself for passing through this street. But he determined to grow bold. If this aggrieved husband desired vengeance, well, let him see. He wanted to resume running but the man and his daughter were already so near him.
Undecided for a moment Pedrong Sabong rushed toward the man and struck him blows. The man who looked like Rizal gazed with poignant eyes at his aggressor as he curled down and fell helpless to the street. He was silent -- not a moan left his lips but they trembled. His face rasped against the stony ground and bled and his lips cracked under the force of his teeth. He did not rise and his daughter wailed with all the lust of her lungs.
A crowd had gathered round them when the man who looked like Rizal was able to lift himself up. Little sharp stones clung to a side of his face and thin lines of blood flowed from his mouth. "He attacked me from behind," Pedrong Sabong was declaring to the crowd, "and I turned around and beat him down. I had to protect myself." He stood tall and big and his words rang with vibrant force. "Imagine trying to attack me from behind. It's treacherous!" he said and looked at his adversary with flinty, lying eyes.
The man who looked like Rizal gazed at him with his sad impotent eyes while his daughter beside him continued crying. He was a weak, shriveled figure and he saw the eyes of the people around looking on him with scathing pity. He felt a revolt in him, he wanted to tell them no, he was not so mean as that, that what Pedrong Sabong said was not true. "I am not treacherous, I could not be. I ran after him because I wanted him to know I had forgiven. I wanted to tell him to be good to her..." But the intensity of his feeling choked him down, left him powerless.
"If he were not so helpless I would have given him... a more thorough beating," Pedrong Sabong told the crowd.
Then, the heart of this puny man rising above all ill feeling, noble enough to rise above the dolor in his soul, he waved a pathetic hand and commanded all to hear:
"You have heard him -- you have heard Pedrong Sabong," he said. "Yes, all is... true." And then he clutched his daughter by one thin hand and they walked slowly away. The crowd followed them with their eyes and some one laughed derisively. Pedrong Sabong stood still but when he heard the man's laugh he could not control the lump that had risen in his throat and his thick arm described a swing that sent the man who laughed down. Pedrong Sabong did not look at the fallen man for his eyes kept following the figure of the shriveled man whom he had not treated fair -- and somehow his very masculine lips trembled.
When the man and his daughter reached home, he sat his daughter on a chair and he knelt contritely before her, as if she were a little precious goddess that he treasured and loved infinitely, as if he were a penitent sinner and he wanted to confess himself to her, to purge the bad blood out of him. He wept and explained himself nervously to her, holding her little hands tightly.
"I was not afraid of him, daughter. No, I was not afraid." He appealed to the little girl with his little wet eyes that were like sick little cats. "It takes a big, strong man to admit he is wrong," he said, sniffing softly, not removing his entreating gaze from her. "And it takes a bigger, stronger man to admit he is wrong... when he is right... and apologize. You see, daughter, I am... a big, strong fellow," and he knelt straight and put out his narrow thin chest, his shaking lips essaying a conceited smile. "It is because I look like Rizal," he added bravely. "It is because I am like Rizal, daughter, and he was... great... a great, noble man. It is because Rizal is in me..."
His little goddess did not move but looked at him with helpless, wet, un-understanding eyes.
"Did you understand me? Did you understand me, daughter!" he pleaded, kissing her little frightened hands.
And the little daughter looked on.