Friday, March 21, 2014

Nelia (1912)

    Poor girl! That night, as she went towards his miserable quarters, her eyes were tearful with mournful sparks like those of a candle about to be blown.
    Juaning was already waiting for her.
    Finally, she had come.
    And the two were locked in a painful embrace.
   He could have been good looking, but his face had been disfigured by that cursed disease. It was red due to leprosy.
    They talked for quite a while; they talked about his departure the following day on a boat where he was to be taken to Culion.
    She wept in despair with tears that sprang from souls that are to be separated forever!...
    “I shall go in peace tomorrow,” he smiled sadly, “trusting that the pain of never seeing you again will not be accompanied by that of jealousy. The dead do not feel that. Tomorrow when we’re apart…”
    “Yes, jump into the sea,” she replied, “but not to your death as you have been thinking. Jump that you might swim and get back to the shore.”
    It was a great idea and he was all for it. Yes, he would throw himself into the sea but not die as he had planned before, but to swim back to the beach. Why not? He was a good swimmer. She would await him and once they were together they would flee and live in the heart of the forest and there they would live away from society and those who despised him.


    It was time for the lepers to go aboard, the inevitable parting hour during which each kiss was a bit slashed off a heart which is torn away from the breast and each beat of that heart bears the most dreadful of dramas, the drama that takes place in the soul.
   How tragic a lepers’ life is ! Who has not shuddered with compassion upon hearing about the isolation in which a leper finds himself. Leprosy carries with it the most painful of curses; the curse of being contagious, of that contamination which forms an emptiness around the afflicted one, comparable only to the emptiness that surrounds the cadaver in a forgotten tomb.
    One shrinks away from the criminal because he is ashamed to be his friend, he shrinks away from the dead out of fear, but only out of repugnance does he keep away from the leper.
    And the foul-smelling crowd kept watching the procession of lepers who are boarding the ship…
    Juaning was among these unfortunate ones to be exiled forever.  He got on the boat calmly with that serenity that augurs a great cataclysm.
   Finally, the deafening ship’s siren was heard and at the start of the motor it began to move like a monster awakening from a nightmare.


    The sea was agitated in the darkness of night. The waves, chasing each other, jumped with fantastic pirouettes of a macabre dance.
    And in the sky, the clouds were moving about extremely fast as in an invasion of ghosts.
    Nelia wandered in the beach hoping to see her loved on arrive swimming…
    Nelia was lovely. She dressed up beautifully as if she were going to her wedding.
    The waves continued murmuring mournfully, caressing the sands of the beach gently.
    Nelia looked into the darkness, she tried to look for the desired object in the mysterious bottom of the immensity of the sea but saw nothing.
    And that sweet virgin who seemed to have been born to be the heroine of a dream, felt that agony of disillusion. She felt broken hearted and two burning bitter tears rolled down her silky cheeks.
    She sat on the sand, sad, tired, and with her face in her hands, she began to cry for the lost one whom fate had snatched from her.
    Suddenly she saw the surf playing with a bundle. She saw that it was getting closer to the shore and she anxiously cried out with joy. This cry echoed in the vastness of the waters which kept approaching agonizingly.
    Nelia recognized Juaning. Yes, he was coming, transported by the rolling, bubbling waves and which were getting closer and breaking up in shrouds of foam in the sands of the beach.
    Nelia, filled with joy, ran to the shore to wait for her beloved.
    The darkness grew dense and the night became black, terribly black at that moment.
    Behind Nelia, the lepers’ huts remained still, with something akin to the apocalyptic in its stillness. It remained abandoned like an empty grave…
    Wrapped in the waves, Juaning’s body arrived slowly, and Nelia rushed to hold him in her arms, and showered him with kisses.
    “Juaning! Speak! I am here!”
    Silence. Nelia’s words echoed dismally in the emptiness of space.
    “How cold your lips are, dearest one,” the young woman went on. “Are you tired? What do you feel? Juaning! Oh, Juaning!”
    She let off with a dreadful scream and amidst the mysterious prayers of the polyphonic murmur which seemed to have surged from the bottom of the surf at that moment as a wretched call of death, Nelia’s body fell slowly on the ground.

    She had just discovered that the body which she was caressing was that of a dead man. The waves had mercilessly drowned him whom she idolized so.

Buenaventura Rodriguez
Renacimiento Filipino, Manila
September 14, 1912

Translated to English by Pilar E. Mariño

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