Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII – Recollections

Ibarra’s carriage was passing through a part of the busiest district in Manila, the same which the night before had made him feel sad, but which by daylight caused him to smile in spite of himself. The movement in every part, so many carriages coming and going at full speed, the carromatas and calesas, the Europeans, the Chinese, the natives, each in his own peculiar costume, the fruit-venders, the money-changers, the naked porters, the grocery stores, the lunch stands and restaurants, the shops, and even the carts drawn by the impassive and indifferent carabao, who seems to amuse himself in carrying burdens while he patiently ruminates, all this noise and confusion, the very sun itself, the distinctive odors and the motley colors, awoke in the youth’s mind a world of sleeping recollections. Those streets had not yet been paved, and two successive days of sunshine filled them with dust which covered everything and made the passer-by cough while it nearly blinded him. A day of rain formed pools of muddy water, which at night reflected the carriage lights and splashed mud a distance of several yards away upon the pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks. And how many women have left their embroidered slippers in those waves of mud!

Then there might have been seen repairing those streets the lines of convicts with their shaven heads, dressed in short-sleeved camisas and pantaloons that reached only to their knees, each with his letter and number in blue. On their legs were chains partly wrapped in dirty rags to ease the chafing or perhaps the chill of the iron. Joined two by two, scorched in the sun, worn out by the heat and fatigue, they were lashed and goaded by a whip in the hands of one of their own number, who perhaps consoled himself with this power of maltreating others. They were tall men with somber faces, which he had never seen brightened with the light of a smile. Yet their eyes gleamed when the whistling lash fell upon their shoulders or when a passer-by threw them the chewed and broken stub of a cigar, which the nearest would snatch up and hide in his salakot, while the rest remained gazing at the passers-by with strange looks.

The noise of the stones being crushed to fill the puddles and the merry clank of the heavy fetters on the swollen ankles seemed to remain with Ibarra. He shuddered as he recalled a scene that had made a deep impression on his childish imagination. It was a hot afternoon, and the burning rays of the sun fell perpendicularly upon a large cart by the side of which was stretched out one of those unfortunates, lifeless, yet with his eyes half opened. Two others were silently preparing a bamboo bier, showing no signs of anger or sorrow or impatience, for such is the character attributed to the natives: today it is you, tomorrow it will be I, they say to themselves. The people moved rapidly about without giving heed, women came up and after a look of curiosity continued unconcerned on their way–it was such a common sight that their hearts had become callous. Carriages passed, flashing back from their varnished sides the rays of the sun that burned in a cloudless sky. Only he, a child of eleven years and fresh from the country, was moved, and to him alone it brought bad dreams on the following night.

There no longer existed the useful and honored Puente de Barcas, the good Filipino pontoon bridge that had done its best to be of service in spite of its natural imperfections and its rising and falling at the caprice of the Pasig, which had more than once abused it and finally destroyed it. The almond trees in the plaza of San Gabriel[46] had not grown; they were still in the same feeble and stunted condition. The Escolta appeared less beautiful in spite of the fact that an imposing building with caryatids carved on its front now occupied the place of the old row of shops. The new Bridge of Spain caught his attention, while the houses on the right bank of the river among the clumps of bamboo and trees where the Escolta ends and the Isla de Romero begins, reminded him of the cool mornings when he used to pass there in a boat on his way to the baths of Uli-Uli.

He met many carriages, drawn by beautiful pairs of dwarfish ponies, within which were government clerks who seemed yet half asleep as they made their way to their offices, or military officers, or Chinese in foolish and ridiculous attitudes, or Gave friars and canons. In an elegant victoria he thought he recognized Padre Damaso, grave and frowning, but he had already passed. Now he was pleasantly greeted by Capitan Tinong, who was passing in a carretela with his wife and two daughters.

As they went down off the bridge the horses broke into a trot along the Sabana Drive.[47] On the left the Arroceros Cigar Factory resounded with the noise of the cigar-makers pounding the tobacco leaves, and Ibarra was unable to restrain a smile as he thought of the strong odor which about five o’clock in the afternoon used to float all over the Puente de Barcas and which had made him sick when he was a child. The lively conversations and the repartee of the crowds from the cigar factories carried him back to the district of Lavapiés in Madrid, with its riots of cigar-makers, so fatal for the unfortunate policemen.

The Botanical Garden drove away these agreeable recollections; the demon of comparison brought before his mind the Botanical Gardens of Europe, in countries where great, labor and much money are needed to make a single leaf grow or one flower open its calyx; he recalled those of the colonies, where they are well supplied and tended, and all open to the public. Ibarra turned away his gaze toward the old Manila surrounded still by its walls and moats like a sickly girl wrapped in the garments of her grandmother’s better days.

Then the sight of the sea losing itself in the distance! “On the other shore lies Europe,” thought the young man,–“Europe, with its attractive peoples in constant movement in the search for happiness, weaving their dreams in the morning and disillusioning themselves at the setting of the sun, happy even in the midst of their calamities. Yes, on the farther shore of the boundless sea are the really spiritual nations, those who, even though they put no restraints on material development, are still more spiritual than those who pride themselves on adoring only the spirit!”

But these musings were in turn banished from his mind as he came in sight of the little mound in Bagumbayan Field.[48] This isolated knoll at the side of the Luneta now caught his attention and made him reminiscent. He thought of the man who had awakened his intellect and made him understand goodness and justice. The ideas which that man had impressed upon him were not many, to be sure, but they were not meaningless repetitions, they were convictions which had not paled in the light of the most brilliant foci of progress. That man was an old priest whose words of farewell still resounded in his ears: “Do not forget that if knowledge is the heritage of mankind, it is only the courageous who inherit it,” he had reminded him. “I have tried to pass on to you what I got from my teachers, the sum of which I have endeavored to increase and transmit to the coming generation as far as in me lay. You will now do the same for those who come after you, and you can treble it, since you are going to rich countries.” Then he had added with a smile, “They come here seeking wealth, go you to their country to seek also that other wealth which we lack! But remember that all that glitters is not gold.” The old man had died on that spot.

At these recollections the youth murmured audibly: “No, in spite of everything, the fatherland first, first the Philippines, the child of Spain, first the Spanish fatherland! No, that which is decreed by fate does not tarnish the honor of the fatherland, no!”

He gave little heed to Ermita, the phenix of nipa that had rearisen from its ashes under the form of blue and white houses with red-painted roofs of corrugated iron. Nor was his attention caught by Malate, neither by the cavalry barracks with the spreading trees in front, nor by the inhabitants or their little nipa huts, pyramidal or prismatic in shape, hidden away among the banana plants and areca palms, constructed like nests by each father of a family.

The carriage continued on its way, meeting now and then carromatas drawn by one or two ponies whose abaka harness indicated that they were from the country. The drivers would try to catch a glimpse of the occupant of the fine carriage, but would pass on without exchanging a word, without a single salute. At times a heavy cart drawn by a slow and indifferent carabao would appear on the dusty road over which beat the brilliant sunlight of the tropics. The mournful and monotonous song of the driver mounted on the back of the carabao would be mingled at one time with the screechings of a dry wheel on the huge axle of the heavy vehicle or at another time with the dull scraping of worn-out runners on a sledge which was dragged heavily through the dust, and over the ruts in the road. In the fields and wide meadows the herds were grazing, attended ever by the white buffalo-birds which roosted peacefully on the backs of the animals while these chewed their cuds or browsed in lazy contentment upon the rich grass. In the distance ponies frisked, jumping and running about, pursued by the lively colts with long tails and abundant manes who whinnied and pawed the ground with their hard hoofs.

Let us leave the youth dreaming or dozing, since neither the sad nor the animated poetry of the open country held his attention. For him there was no charm in the sun that gleamed upon the tops of the trees and caused the rustics, with feet burned by the hot ground in spite of their callousness, to hurry along, or that made the villager pause beneath the shade of an almond tree or a bamboo brake while he pondered upon vague and inexplicable things. While the youth’s carriage sways along like a drunken thing on account of the inequalities in the surface of the road when passing over a bamboo bridge or going up an incline or descending a steep slope, let us return to Manila.






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