Monday, January 18, 2010

Desire by Paz Latorena

January 11, 2010

by Paz Latorena

She was homely. A very broad forehead gave her face an unpleasant, masculine look. Her eyes, which were small, slanted at the corners and made many of her acquaintances wonder if perchance she had a few drops of celestial blood in her veins. Her nose was broad and flat, and its nostrils were always dilated, as if breathing were an effort. Her mouth, with thick lips, was a long, straight; gash across her face made angular by her unusually big jaws.

But nature, as if ashamed of her meanness in fashioning the face, moulded a body of unusual beauty. From her neck to her small feet, she was perfect. Her bust was full, and her breast rose up like twin roses in full bloom. Her waist was slim as a young girl’s her hips seemed to have stolen the curve of the crescent moon. Her arms were shapely ending in small hands with fine tapering fingers that were the envy of her friends. Her legs with their trim ankles reminded one of those lifeless things seen in shop windows displaying the latest silk stockings.

Hers was a body of a sculptor, athirst for glory, might have dreamt of and moulded in a feverish frenzy of creation, with hand atremble with a vision of the fame in store for him. Hers was a body that might have been the delight and despair of a painter whose feelings faltering brush tried in vain to depict on the canvass such a beautiful harmony of curves and lines. Hers was a body a poet might have raved over and immortalized in musical, fanciful verses. Hers was a body men would gladly have gone to hell for.

And they did. Men looked at her face and turned their eyes away; they looked at her body and were enslaved. They forget the broad masculine forehead, the small eyes that slanted at the corners, the unpleasant mouth, the aggressive jaws. All they had eyes for was that body, those hips that has stolen the curve of the crescent moon.

But she hated her body – hated that gift which Nature, in a fit of remorse for the wrong done to her face, had given her. She hated her body because it made men look at her with an unbeautiful light in their eyes – married eyes, single eyes.

She wanted love, was starved for it. But she did not want that love that her body inspired in men. She wanted something purer, cleaner.

She was disgusted. And hurt. For men told other women that they loved them looking deep into their eyes to the soul beneath their voices low and soft, their hands quivering with the weight of their tenderness. But men told her that they loved her body with eyes that made her feel as if she were naked, stripped bare of their simple eyes to gaze upon. They told her that with voices made thick with desire, touched her with hand afire, that scared her flesh, filling her with scorn and loathing.

She wanted to be loved as other women were loved. She was as good as pure as they. And some of them were as homely as she was. But they did not have beautiful bodies. And so they were loved for themselves.

Deliberately she set out to hide from the eyes of men the beautiful body that to her was a curse rather than a blessing. She started wearing long, wide dresses that completely disfigured her. She gave up wearing the Filipino costume which outlined her body with startling accuracy.

It took quite a time to make men forget that body that had once been their delight. But after a time they became accustomed to the disfiguring dresses and concluded she had become fate and shapeless. She accomplished the desired result.

And more.. For there came a time when men look at her and turned their eyes away, not with the unbeautiful light of former days but with something akin to pity mirrored there –pity for a homely face and a shapeless mass of flesh.

At first she was glad. Glad that she had succeeded in extinguishing that unbeautiful light in the eyes of men when they looked at her.

After some time, she became rebellious. For she was a woman and she wanted to be loved and to love. But it seemed that men would not have anything to do with a woman with a homely face and an apparently shapeless mass of flesh.

But she became reconciled to her fate. And rather than bring back that unbeautiful light in men’s eyes, she chose to go … with the farce.

She turned to writing to while away the long nights spent brooding all alone.

Little things. Little lyrics. Little sketches. Sometimes they were the heart throbs of a woman who wanted love and sweet things whispered to her in the dark.. Sometimes, they were the ironies of one who sees all the weaknesses and stupidities of men and the world through eye made bitter by loneliness.

She sent them to papers which found the little things acceptable and published them, “To fill space,” she told herself. But she continued to write because it made her forget once in a while how drab her life was.

And then came into her life – a man with white blood in his veins. He was one of those who believed in the inferiority of colored races. But he found something unusual in the light, ironic tirades from the pen of the unknown writer. Not in the little lyrics. No, he thought that those were superfluous effusions of a woman belonging to a race of people who could not think of writing about anything except love. But he liked the light airy sketches. They were like those of the people of his race.

One day, when he had nothing to do, he sent her, to encourage her, a note of appreciation. It was brief, but the first glance showed her that it came from cultured man.

She answered it, a light, nonsensical answer that touched the sense of humor of the white man. That started a correspondence. In the course of time, she came to watch for the mail carrier for the gray tinted stationery that was his.

He asked to see her – to know her personally. Letters were so tantalizing. Her first impulse was to say no. A bitter smile hovered about her lips as she surveyed her face before the mirror. He would be disappointed, she told herself.

But she consented. They would have to meet sooner or later. The first meeting would surely be trial and the sooner it was over, the better.

He, the white man, coming from a land of fair, blue-eyed women, was shocked. Perhaps, he found it a bit difficult to associate this homely woman with one who could write such delightful sketches, such delightful letters.

But she could talk rather well. There was a light vein of humor, faintly ironical at times, in everything she said. And that delighted him.

He asked her to come out with him again. By the shore of Manila Bay one early evening, when her homely face was softened by the darkness around them, he forgot that he was a white man, that she was a brown maiden – a homely and to all appearances, shapeless creature at that. Her silence, as with half closed eyes she gazed at the distance, was very soothing and under the spell of her understanding sympathy, he found himself telling her of his home way over the seas, how he loved the blue of the sea on early morning because it reminded of the blue of the eyes of the women of his native land. He told her of his love of the sea, for the waves that dashed against the rocks in impotent fury, how he could spend his life on the water, sailing on and on, to unknown and uncharted seas.

She listened to him silently. Then he woke up from the spell and, as if ashamed of the outburst of confidence, added irrelevantly:

“But you are different from the other women of your race,” looking deep into her small eyes that slanted at the corners.

She smiled. Of course she was, the homely and shapeless mass of flesh that he saw her to be.

No, I do not mean that, “he protested, divining her thoughts, “you do not seem to care much for convention. No Filipino girl would go out unchaperoned with a man, a white mad at that.”

“A homely woman can very well afford to break conventions. Nobody minds her if she does. That is one consolation of being homely,” was her calmly reply.

He laughed.

“You have some very queer ideas,” he observed.

“I should have,” she retorted. “If I didn’t nobody would notice me with my face and my … my figure,” she hated herself for stammering the last words.

He looked at her impersonally, as if trying to find some beauty in her.

“But I like you,” was his verdict, uttered with the almost brutal frankness in his race. “I have not come across a more interesting girl for a long time.”

They met, again. And again. Thoughts, pleasant thoughts, began to fill her mind. Had she at last found one who liked her sincerely? For he liked her, that she was ready to believe. As a friend, a pal who understood him. And the though gave her happiness – a friend, a pal who understood him – such as she had never experienced before.

One day, an idea took hold of her – simply obsesses her. He was such a lover of beautiful things – of beauty in any form. She noticed that in all his conversations, in very look, every gesture of his. A desire to show him that she was not entirely devoid of beauty which he worshipped came over her.

It would not do any harm, she told herself. He had learned to like her for herself. He had leaned to value their friendship, homely as she was shapeless as he thought her to be. Her body would matter not at all now. It would please the aesthete in him perhaps, but it certainly would not matter much to the man.

From the bottom of a very old truck, she unearthed one of those flimsy, shapedly things tha had lain there unused for many years. As she looked at herself in the mirror before the appointment, she grudgingly admitted that her body had lost nothing of its hated beauty.

He was surprised. Pleasantly so.

Accustomed as he was to the beautiful bodies of the women of his race, he had to confess that there was something of unusual beauty.

“Why have you been hiding such a beautiful figure all this time,” he demanded in mock anger.

“I did not know it was beautiful,” she lied.

“Pouff! I know it is not polite to tell a young lady she is a liar so I won’t do it. But… but…”

“But…” fear was beginning to creep into her voice.

“Well… Let us talk of something else.”

She heaved in a deep sigh. She was right. She had found a man to whom her body mattered little if anything at all. She need not take warning. He had learned to like her for herself.

At their next meeting she wore a pale rose Filipino dress that softened the brown of her skin. His eyes lighted up when they rested on her, but whether it was the unbeautiful light that she dreaded so much, she could not determine for it quickly disappeared. No, it could not be the unbeautiful light. He liked her for herself. This belief she treasured fondly.

They had a nice long ride out in the country, where the winds were soft and faintly scented and the bamboo tress sighed love to the breeze. They visited a little our of the way nipa chapel by the roadside where a naked Man, nailed to the Cross, looked at them with eyes which held all the tragedy and sorrow of the world – for the sins of sinning men.

She gazed at the figure feeling something vague and incomprehensible stirring within her. She turned to him for sympathy and found him staring at her… at her body.

He turned slightly red. In silence they left the little chapel. He helped her inside the car but did not start it at once.

“I… I… love…” he stammered after some moment, as if impelled by an irresistible force. Then he stopped.

The small eyes that slanted at the corners were almost beautiful with a tender, soft light as she turned them on hi. So he loved her. Had he learned not only to like her but to love her? For herself. And the half finished confession found an echo in the heart of the woman who was starved for love.

“Yes…” there was a pleading note in her voice.

He swallowed hard. “I love…. Your body.” He finished with a thick voice: And the blue eyes flared with the dreaded, hateful light.

She uttered an involuntary cry of protest, of pain of disillusion. And then a sob escaped her.

And dimly the man from the West realized that he had wronged this little brown maiden with a homely face and the beautiful body as she never had been wronged before. And he felt sorry, infinitely so.

When they stopped before the door of her house, he got out to open the door for her.

“I am sorry,” was all he said.

There was a world of regret in the eyes she turned on him.

“For what?” she asked in a tired voice. “You have just been yourself… like other men.” He winced.

And with a weary smile she passed within.


compiled by: Rose Flores - Martinez

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