Monday, February 27, 2012

Bienvenido Santos: The Day The Dancers Came

AS soon as Fil woke up, he noticed a whiteness outside, quite unusual for the November mornings they had been having. That fall, Chicago was sandman's town, sleepy valley, drowsy gray, slumberous mistiness from sunup till noon when the clouds drifted away in cauliflower clusters and suddenly it was evening. The lights shone on the avenues like soiled lamps centuries old and the skyscrapers became monsters with a thousand sore eyes. Now there was a brightness in the air land Fil knew what it was and he shouted, "Snow! It's snowing!"

Tony, who slept in the adjoining room, was awakened.

"What's that?" he asked.

"It's snowing," Fil said, smiling to himself as if he had ordered this and was satisfied with the prompt delivery. "Oh, they'll love this, they'll love this."

"Who'll love that?" Tony asked, his voice raised in annoyance.

"The dancers, of course," Fil answered. "They're arriving today. Maybe they've already arrived. They'll walk in the snow and love it. Their first snow, I'm sure."

"How do you know it wasn't snowing in New York while they were there?" Tony asked.

"Snow in New York in early November?" Fil said. "Are you crazy?"

"Who's crazy?" Tony replied. "Ever since you heard of those dancers from the Philippines, you've been acting nuts. Loco. As if they're coming here just for you.

Tony chuckled. Hearing him, Fil blushed, realizing that he had, indeed, been acting too eager, but Tony had said it. It felt that way--as if the dancers were coming here only for him.

Filemon Acayan, Filipino, was fifty, a U.S., citizen. He was a corporal in the U.S. Army, training at San Luis Obispo, on the day he was discharged honorably, in 1945. A few months later, he got his citizenship papers. Thousands of them, smart and small in their uniforms, stood at attention in drill formation, in the scalding sun, and pledged allegiance to the flat and the republic for which it stands. Soon after he got back to work. To a new citizen, work meant many places and many ways: factories and hotels, waiter and cook. A timeless drifting: once he tended a rose garden and took care of a hundred year old veteran of a border war. As a menial in a hospital in Cook Country, all day he handled filth and gore. He came home smelling of surgical soap and disinfectant. In the hospital, he took charge of row of bottles on a shelf, each bottle containing a stage of the human embryo in preservatives, from the lizard-like fetus of a few days, through the newly born infant, with its position unchanged, cold and cowering and afraid. He had nightmares through the years of himself inside a bottle. l That was long ago. Now he had a more pleasant job as special policemen in the post office.

He was a few years younger than Tony-Antonio Bataller, a retired pullman porter but he looked older in inspite of the fact that Tony had been bedridden most of the time for the last two years, suffering from a kind of wasting disease that had frustrated doctors. All over Tony's body, a gradual peeling was taking place. l At first, he thought it was merely tiniaflava, a skin disease common among adolescent in the Philippines. It had started around the neck and had spread to his extremities. His face looked as if it was healing from sever burns. Nevertheless, it was a young face much younger than Fil's, which had never looked young.

"I'm becoming a white man," Tony had said once, chuckling softly.

It was the same chuckle Fil seemed to have heard now, only this time it sounded derisive, insulting.

Fil said, "I know who's nuts. It's the sick guy with the sick thoughts. You don't care for nothing but your pain, your imaginary pain."

"You're the imagining fellow. I got the real thing," Tony shouted from the room. He believed he had something worse than the whiteness spreading on his skin. There was a pain in his insides, like dull scissors scraping his intestines. Angrily he added, "What for I got retired?"

"You're old, man, old, that's what, and sick, yes, but not cancer," Fil said turning towards the snow-filled sky. He pressed his faced against the glass window. There's about an inch now on the ground, he thought, maybe more.

Tony came out of his room looking as if he had not slept all night. "I know what I got," he said, as if it were an honor and a privilege to die of cancer and Fill was trying to deprive him of it. "Never a pain like this. One day, I'm just gonna die."

"Naturally. Who says you won't?" Fil argued, thinking how wonderful it would be if he could join the company of dancers from the Philippines, show them around walk with them in the snow, watch their eyes as they stared about them, answer their questions, tell them everything they wanted to know about the changing seasons in this strange land. They would pick up fistfuls of snow, crunch it in their fingers or shove it into their mouths. He had done just that the first time, long, long ago, and it had reminded him of the grated ice the Chinese sold near the town plaza where he had played tatching with an older brother who later drowned in a squall. How his mother had grieved over that death, she who has not cried too much when his father died, a broken man. Now they were all gone, quick death after a storm, or lingeringly, in a season of drought, all, all of them he had loved.

He continued, "All of us will die. One day. A medium bomb marked Chicago and this whole dump is tapus, finished. Who'll escape then?"

"Maybe your dancers will," Fil answered, now watching the snow himself.

"Of course, they will," Fil retorted, his voice sounding like a big assurance that all the dancers would be safe in his care. "The bombs won't be falling on this night. And when the dancers are back in the Philippines..."

He paused, as if he was no longer sure of what he was going to say. "But maybe, even in the Philippines the bombs gonna fall, no?" he said, gazing sadly at the falling snow.

"What's that to you?" Tony replied. "You got no more folks over 'der right? I know it's nothing to me. I'll be dead before that."

"Let's talk about something nice," Fil said, the sadness spreading on his face as he tried to smile. "Tell me, how will I talk, how am I gonna introduce myself?"

He would go ahead with his plans, introduce himself to the dancers and volunteer to take them sight-seeing. His car was clean and ready for his guests. He had soaped the ashtrays, dusted off the floor boards and thrown away the old mats, replacing them with new plastic throw rugs. He had got himself soaking wet while spraying the car, humming, as he worked, faintly-remembered tunes from the old country.

Fill shook his head as he waited for Tony to say something. "Gosh, I wish I had your looks, even with those white spots, then I could face everyone of them," he said, "but this mug."

"That's the important thing, you mug. It's your calling card. It says, Filipino. Countrymen," Tony said.

"You're not fooling me, friend," Fil said. "This mug says, Ugly Filipino. It says, old-timer, muchacho. It says Pinoy, bejo."

For Fil, time was the villain. In the beginning, the words he often heard were: too young, too young; but all of a sudden, too young became too old, too late. What happened in between, a mist covering all things. You don't have to look at your face in a mirror to know that you are old, suddenly old, grown useless for a lot of things land too late for all the dreams you had wrapped up w ell against a day of need.

"It also says sucker," Fil answered, "but who wants a palace when they can have the most delicious adobo here ands the best stuffed chicken... yum...yum..."

Tony was angry, "Yum, yum, you're nuts," he said, "plain and simple loco. What for you want to spend? You've been living on loose change all your life and now on dancing kids who don't know you and won't even send you a card afterwards."

"Never mind the cards," Fil answered. "Who wants cards? But don't you see, they'll be happy; and then, you know what? I'm going to keep their voices, their words and their singing and their laughter in my magic sound mirror."

He had a portable tape recorder and a stack of recordings, patiently labeled, songs and speeches. The songs were in English, but most of the speeches were in the dialect, debates between him and Tony. It was evident Tony was the better speaker of the two in English, but in the dialect, Fil showed greater mastery. His style, however, was florid, sentimental, poetic.

Without telling Tony, he had experimented on recording sounds, like the way a bed creaked, doors opening and closing, rain or sleet tapping on the window panes, footsteps through the corridor. He was beginning to think that they did. He was learning to identify each of the sounds with a particular mood or fact. Sometimes, like today, he wished that there was a way of keeping a record of silence because it was to him the richest sound, like snow falling. He wondered as he watched the snow blowing in the wind, what took care of that moment if memory didn't. Like time, memory was often a villain, a betrayer.

"Fall, snow, fall," he murmured and, turning to Tony, said, "As soon as they accept my invitation, I'll call you up. No, you don't have to do anything, but I'd want to be here to meet them."

"I'm going out myself," Tony said. "And I don't know what time I'll be back."Then he added. "You're not working today. Are you on leave?"

"For two days. While the dancers are here." Fil said.

"It still don't make sense to me," Tony said. "But good luck, any way."

"Aren't you going to see them tonight? Our reserved seats are right out in front, you know."

"I know. But I'm not sure I can come."

"What? You're not sure?"

Fil could not believe it. Tony was indifferent. Something must be wrong with him. He looked at him closely, saying nothing.

"I want to, but I'm sick Fil. I tell you, I'm not feeling so good. My doctor will know today. He'll tell me." Tony said.

"What will he tell you?"

"How do I know?"

"I mean, what's he trying to find out?"

"If it's cancer," Tony said. l Without saying another word, he went straight back to is room.

Fil remembered those times, at night, when Tony kept him awake with his moaning. When he called out to him, asking, "Tony, what's the matter?" his sighs ceased for a while, but afterwards, Tony screamed, deadening his cries with a pillow against his mouth. When Fill rushed to his side, Tony dove him about the previous night, he would reply, "I was dying," but it sounded more like disgust overt a nameless annoyance.

Fil has misgivings, too, about the whiteness spreading on Tony's skin. He had heard of leprosy. Every time he thought of that dreaded disease, he felt tears in his eyes. In all the years he had been in America, he had not has a friend until he meet Tony whom he liked immediately and, in a way, worshipped, for all the things the man had which Fil knew he himself lacked.

They had shared a lot together. They made merry on Christmas, sometimes got drunk and became loud. Fil recited poems in the dialect and praised himself. Tony fell to giggling and cursed all the railroad companies of America. But last Christmas, they hadn't gotten drunk. They hadn't even talked to each other on Christmas day. Soon, it would be Christmas again.

The snow was still falling.

"Well, I'll be seeing you," Fil said, getting ready to leave. "Try to be home on time. I shall invites the dancers for luncheon or dinner maybe, tomorrow. But tonight, let's go to the theater together, ha?"

"I'll try," Tony answered. He didn't need boots. He loved to walk in the snow.

The air outside felt good. Fil lifted his face to the sky and closed his eyes as the snow and a wet wind drench his face. He stood that way for some time, crying, more, more to himself, drunk with snow and coolness. His car was parked a block away. As he walked towards it, he plowed into the snow with one foot and studied the scar he made, a hideous shape among perfect footmarks. He felt strong as his lungs filled with the cold air, as if just now it did not matter too much that he was the way he looked and his English way the way it was. But perhaps, he could talk to the dancers in his dialect. Why not?

A heavy frosting of snow covered his car and as he wiped it off with his bare hands, he felt light and young, like a child at play, and once again, he raised his face to the sky and licked the flakes, cold and tasteless on his tongue.

When Fil arrived at the Hamilton, it seemed to him the Philippine dancers had taken over the hotel. They were all over the lobby on the mezzanine, talking in groups animatedly, their teeth sparkling as they laughed, their eyes disappearing in mere slits of light. Some of the girls wore their black hair long. For a moment, the sight seemed too much for him who had but all forgotten how beautiful Philippine girls were. He wanted to look away, but their loveliness held him. He must do something, close his eyes perhaps. As he did so, their laughter came to him like a breeze murmurous with sounds native to his land.

Later, he tried to relax, to appear inconspicuous. True, they were all very young, but there were a few elderly men and women who must have been their chaperons or well-wishers like him. He would smile at everyone who happened to look his way. Most of them smiled back, or rather, seemed to smile, but it was quick, without recognition, and might not have been for him but for someone else near or behind him.

His lips formed the words he was trying to phrase in his mind: Ilocano ka? Bicol? Ano na, paisano? Comusta? Or should he introduce himself---How? For what he wanted to say, the words didn't come too easily, they were unfamiliar, they stumbled and broke on his lips into a jumble of incoherence.

Suddenly, he felt as if he was in the center of a group where he was not welcome. All the things he had been trying to hide now showed: the age in his face, his horny hands. He knew it the instant he wanted to shake hands with the first boy who had drawn close to him, smiling and friendly. Fil put his hands in his pocket.

Now he wished Tony had been with him. Tony would know what to do. He would harm these young people with his smile and his learned words. Fil wanted to leave, but he seemed caught up in the tangle of moving bodies that merged and broke in a fluid strangle hold. Everybody was talking, mostly in English. Once in a while he heard exclamations in the dialect right out of the past, conjuring up playtime, long shadows of evening on the plaza, barrio fiestas, misa de gallo.

Time was passing and he had yet to talk to someone. Suppose he stood on a chair and addressed them in the manner of his flamboyant speeches recorded in his magic sound mirror?

"Beloved countrymen, lovely children of the Pearl of the Orient Seas, listen to me. I'm Fil Acayan. I've come to volunteer my services. I'm yours to command. Your servant. Tell me where you wish to go, what you want to see in Chicago. I know every foot of the lakeshore drive, all the gardens and the parks, the museums, the huge department stores, the planetarium. Let me be your guide. That's what I'm offering you, a free tour of Chicago, and finally, dinner at my apartment on West Sheridan Road--pork adobo and chicken relleno, name your dish. How about it, paisanos?"

No. That would be a foolish thing to do. They would laugh at him. He felt a dryness in his throat. He was sweating. As he wiped his face with a handkerchief, he bumped against a slim, short girl who quite gracefully, stepped aside, and for a moment he thought he would swoon in the perfume that enveloped him. It was fragrance, essence of camia, of ilang-ilang, and dama de noche.

Two boys with sleek, pomaded hair were sitting near an empty chair. He sat down and said in the dialect, "May I invite you to my apartment?" The boys stood up, saying, "Excuse us, please," and walked away. He mopped his brow, but instead of getting discouraged, he grew bolder as though he hand moved one step beyond shame. Approaching another group, he repeated his invitation, and a girl with a mole on her upper lip, said, "Thank you, but we have no time." As he turned towards another group, he felt their eyes on his back. Another boy drifted towards him, but as soon as he began to speak, the boy said, "Pardon, please," and moved away.

They were always moving away. As if by common consent, they had decided to avoid him, ignore his presence. Perhaps it was not their fault. They must have been instructed to do so. Or was it his looks that kept them away? The though was a sharpness inside him.

After a while, as he wandered about the mezzanine, among the dancers, but alone, he noticed that they had begun to leave. Some had crowded noisily into the two elevators. He followed the others going down the stairs. Through the glass doors, he saw them getting into a bus parked beside the subway entrance on Dearborn.

The snow had stopped falling; it was melting fast in the sun and turning into slush.

As he moved about aimlessly, he felt someone touch him on the sleeve. It was one of the dancers, a mere boy, tall and thin, who was saying, "Excuse, please." Fil realized he was in the way between another boy with a camera and a group posing in front of the hotel.

"Sorry," Fill said, jumping away awkwardly.

The crowd burst out laughing.

Then everything became a blur in his eyes, a moving picture out of focus, but gradually, the figure cleared, there was mud on the pavement on which the dancers stood posing, and the sun throw shadows at their feet.

Let them have fun, he said to himself, they're young and away from home. I have no business up their schedule, forcing my company on them.

He watched the dancers till the last of them was on the bus. The voices came to him, above the traffic sounds. They waved their hands and smiled towards him as the bus started. Fil raised his hand to wave back, but stopped quickly, aborting the gesture. He turned to look behind him at whomever the dancers were waving their hands to. There was no one there except his own reflection in the glass door, a double exposure of himself and a giant plant with its thorny branches around him like arms in a loving embrace.

Even before he opened the door to their apartment, Fil knew that Tony had not yet arrived. There were no boots outside on the landing. Somehow he felt relieved, for until then he did not know how he was going to explain his failure.

From the hotel, he had driven around, cruised by the lakeshore drive, hoping he could see the dancers somewhere, in a park perhaps, taking pictures of the mist over the lake and the last gold on the trees now wet with melted snow, or on some picnic grounds, near a bubbling fountain. Still taking pictures of themselves against a background of Chicago's gray and dirty skyscrapers. He slowed down every time he saw a crowd, but the dancers were nowhere along his way. Perhaps they had gone to the theater to rehearse. He turned back before reaching Evanston.

He felt weak, not hungry. Just the same, he ate, warming up some left-over food. The rice was cold, but the soup was hot and tasty. While he ate, he listened for footfalls.

Afterwards, he lay down on the sofa and a weariness came over him, but he tried hard not to sleep. As he stared at the ceiling, he felt like floating away, but he kept his eyes open, willing himself hard to remain awake. He wanted to explain everything to Tony when he arrived. But soon his eyes closed against a weary will too tired and weak to fight back sleep--and then there were voices. Tony was in the room, eager to tell his own bit of news.

"I've discovered a new way of keeping afloat," he was saying.

"Who wants to keep afloat?" Fil asked.

"Just in case. In a shipwreck, for example," Tony said.

"Never mind shipwrecks. I must tell you about the dancers," Fil said.

"But this is important," Tony insisted. "This way, you can keep floating indefinitely."

"What for indefinitely?" Fil asked.

"Say in a ship... I mean, in an emergency, you're stranded without help in the middle of the Pacific or the Atlantic, you must keep floating till help comes..." Tony explained.

"More better," Fil said, "find a way to reach shore before the sharks smells you. You discover that."

"I will," Tony said, without eagerness, as though certain that there was no such way, that, after all, his discovery was worthless.

"Now you listen to me," Fil said, sitting up abruptly. As he talked in the dialect, Tony listened with increasing apathy.

"There they were," Fil began, his tone taking on the orator's pitch, "Who could have been my children if I had not left home-- or yours, Tony. They gazed around them with wonder, smiling at me, answering my questions, but grudgingly, edging away as if to be near me were wrong, a violation in their rule book. But it could be that every time I opened my mouth, I gave myself away. I talked in the dialect, Ilocano, Tagalog, Bicol, but no one listened. They avoided me. They had been briefed too well: Do not talk to strangers. Ignore their invitations. Be extra careful in the big cities like New York and Chicago, beware of the old-timers, the Pinoys. Most of them are bums. Keep away ;from them. Be on the safe side--stick together, entertain only those who have been introduced to you properly.

"I'm sure they had such instructions, safety measures, they must have called them. What then could I have done, scream out my good intentions, prove my harmlessness and my love for them by beating my breast? Oh, but I loved them. You see, I was like them once. I, too, was nimble with my feet, graceful with my hands; and I had the tongue of a poet. Ask the village girls and the envious boys from the city--but first you have to find them. After these many years, it won't be easy. You'll have to search every suffering pace in the village gloom for a hint of youth and beauty or go where the grave-yards are and the tombs under the lime trees. One such face...oh, God, what am I saying...

"All I wanted was to talk to them, guide them around Chicago, spend money on them so that they would have something special to remember about us here when they return to our country. They would tell their folks: We melt a kind, old man, who took us to his apartment. It was not much of a place. It was old-like him. When we sat on the sofa in the living room, the bottom sank heavily, the broken springs touching the floor. But what a cook that man was! And how kind! We never thought that rice and adobo could be that delicious. And the chicken relleno! When someone asked what the stuffing was--we had never tasted anything like it, he smiled saying, 'From heaven's supermarket' touching his head and pressing his heart like a clown as if heaven were there. He had his tape recorder which he called a magic sound mirror, and he had all of us record our voices. Say anything in the dialect, sing, if you please, our kundiman, please, he said, his eyes pleading, too. Oh, we had fun listening to the playback. When you're gone, the old man said, I shall listen to your voices with my eyes closed and you'll be here again and I won't ever be alone, no, not anymore, after this. We wanted to cry, but he looked very funny, so we laughed and he laughed with us.

"But, Tony, they would not come. They thanked me, but they said they had no time. Others said nothing. They looked through me. I didn't exist. Or worse, I was unclean. Basura. Garbage. They were ashamed me. How could I be Filipino?"

The memory, distinctly recalled, was a rock on his breast. He grasped for breath.

"Now, let me teach you how to keep afloat," Tony said, but is was not Tony's voice.

Fil was alone and gasping for air. His eyes opened slowly till he began to breathe more easily. The sky outside was gray. He looked at his watch--a quarter past five. The show would begin at eight. There was time. Perhaps Tony would be home soon.

The apartment was warming up. The radiators sounded full of scampering rats. He had a recording of that in his sound mirror.

Fil smiled. He had an idea. He would take the sound mirror to the theater, take his seat close to the stage, and make tape recordings of the singing and the dances.

Now he was wide-awake and somehow pleased with himself. The more he thought of the idea, the better he felt. If Tony showed up now... He sat up, listening. The radiators were quiet. There were no footfalls, no sound of a key turning.

Late that night, back from the theater, Fill knew at once that Tony was back. The boots were outside the door. He, too, must be tired, and should not be disturb.

He was careful not to make any noise. As he turned on the floor lamp, he thought that perhaps Tony was awake and waiting for him. They would listen together to a playback of the dances and songs Tony had missed. Then he would tell Tony what happened that day, repeating part of the dream.

From Tony's bedroom came the regular breathing of a man sound asleep. To be sure, he looked into the room and in the half-darkness, Tony's head showed darkly, deep in a pillow, on its side, his knees bent, almost touching the clasped hands under his chin, an oversized fetus in the last bottle. Fill shut the door between them and went over to the portable. Now. He turned it on to low. At first nothing but static and odd sounds came through, but soon after there was the patter of feet to the rhythm of a familiar melody.

All the beautiful boys and girls were in the room now, dancing and singing. A boy and a girl sat on the floor holding two bamboo poles by their ends flat on floor, clapping them together, then apart, and pounding them on the boards, while dancers swayed and balanced their lithe forms, dipping their bare brown legs in and out of the clapping bamboos, the pace gradually increasing into a fury of wood on wood in a counterpoint of panic among the dancers and in a harmonious flurry of toes and ankles escaping certain pain--crushed bones, and bruised flesh, and humiliation. Other dances followed, accompanied by songs and live with the sounds of life and death in the old country; I go rot natives in G-strings walking down a mountainside; peasants climbing up a hill on a rainy day; neighbors moving a house, their sturdy legs showing under a moving roof; a distant gong sounding off a summons either to a feast for a wake. And finally, prolonged ovation, thunderous, wave upon wave...

"Turn that thing off!" Tony's voice was sharp above the echoes of the gongs and the applause settling into silence.

Fil switched off the dial and in the sudden stillness, the voices turned into faces, familiar and near, like gesture and touch that stayed on even as the memory withdrew, bowing out, as it were, in a graceful exit, saying, thank you, thank you, before a ghostly audience that clapped hands in silence and stomped their feet in a such emptiness. He wanted to join the finale, such as it was, pretend that the curtain call included him, and attempt a shamefaced imitation of a graceful adieu, but he was stiff and old, incapable of grace; but he said, thank you, thank you, his voice sincere and contrite, grateful for the other voices and the sound of singing and the memory.

"Oh, my God..." the man in the other room cried, followed by a moan of such anguish that Fil fell on his knees, covering the sound mirror with his hands to muffle the sounds that had started again, it seemed to him, even after he had turned it off.

Then he remembered.

"Tony, what did the doctor say? What did he say?" he shouted and listened, holding his breath, no longer able to tell at the moment who had truly waited all day for the final sentence.

There was no answer. Meanwhile, under his hands, there was Tony saying? That was his voice, no? Fil wanted to hear, he must know. He switched dials on and off, again and again, pressing buttons. Suddenly, he didn't know what to do. The spool were live, they kept turning. His arms went around the machine, his chest pressing down on the spools. In the quick silence, Tony's voice came clear.

"So they didn't come after all?"

"Tony, what did the doctor say?" Fil asked, straining hard to hear.

"I knew they wouldn't come. But that's okay. The apartment is old anyhow. And it smells of death."

"How you talk. In this country, there's a cure for everything."

"I guess we can't complain. We had it good here all the time. Most of the time, anyway."

"I wish, though, they had come. I could..."

"Yes, they could have. They didn't have to see me, but I could have seen them. I have seen their pictures, but what do they really look like?"

"Tony, they're beautiful, all of them, but especially the girls. Their complexion, their grace, their eyes, they were what we call talking eyes, they say, things to you. And the scent of them!"

There was a sigh from the room soft, hardly like a sigh. A louder, grating sound, almost under his hands that had relaxed their hold, called his attention. The sound mirror had kept going, the tape was fast unraveling.

"Oh, no! he screamed, noticing that somehow, he had pushed the eraser.

Frantically, he tried to rewind and play back the sounds and the music, but there was nothing now but the full creaking of the tape on the spool and meaningless sounds that somehow had not been erased, the thud of dancing feet, a quick clapping of hands, alien voices and words: in this country... everything... all of them... talking eyes... and the scent... a fading away into nothingness, till about the end when there was a screaming, senseless kind of finale detached from the body of a song in the background, drums and sticks and the tolling of a bell.

"Tony! Tony!" Fil cried, looking towards the sick man's room, "I've lost them all."

Biting his lips, Fil turned towards the window, startled by the first light of the dawn. He hadn't realized till then the long night was over.

Saturday, February 25, 2012



Madness creeps to explore new possibilities. How many men can a woman have in a day? I was curious. It was discovering a feeling I had not the luxury in life. I was in a barred, cemented walls that was almost like a tomb. A core in a crust. So I plunged my fears and swam across depths of time and space. First time.
I would taste the pleasure of emotions in words. It was a trance. A temporary exit to the power-playing people around me in the real-now. I began to find the answers to my complicated ideas, deconstructing and reconstructing every word; trying to separate water and oil. I would like to think, there is a knife on my neck and every wrong move I make would slit a cut on my throbbing throat like killing a helpless chicken.
Maybe, I can become what I dream now. In this development of technology, words and letters are like people talking to me face to face.


“Hello and heller!”
Everyone greeted everyone hello. Well, not hell and below, I suppose. It was a greeting of cheers like “Aloha” in Hawaiian and “Ciao” in Italian. I thought all eyes were on me. Searching me head to foot, undressing me, my heart and my soul. But I was armed and shielded. I was wearing a complete battle gear. I floated with the cursor throbbing systolic and diastolic. The keypads wrote the murmurs in the blue sea of fiber optic cables, wires, and wireless connections of the internet.
“How is everyone?
“I want to join in.”
“Nice and happy to be here!”
“Where are you from?”
I could not pretend. I got recharged by the electronic vibrations, pulling my fingers. My emotions were letting go. I needed someone to talk to - like a friend. Maybe another thrill seeker in a machine, or an android at my bidding. On and off with my PC, I was giggling – to this my net baptism. It seemed like exploring a part of the earth where a star would burst and become another planet.
Well, this is technology.
“Asl please…”
“What is asl?” My ignorance let me ask.
“Age, sex, location.”
“Okay.” I got so excited because these were the things I didn’t know.
“Asian, female, between 35-45 years old.”
I went private. At first, I was scared about these private domains. I was foreign to this idea of being too personal, and afraid of some people who were lewd. But I needed these experiences that could break the walls surrounding my routine and sad life. “ The Edge of Things” by Edith Tiempo, pushed me to “that brink or threshold, none other may enter.” And that “leap of faith,” which Kierkegaard calls, let me jump into the abyss or beyond the abyss.

My fight, mhwhahahahah… I’ll do it in cyberspace – I have to make out of something, or else I’ll just be keeping everything and I would die, too. I had to free these golden butterflies inside my stomach and shreds of heaven-threads in my veins if for moments of releasing my act of faith.
I met Eazymaan, Medicate, Caterpillar, Virgo Woman, Pilot, and Wild Fire while I hid on the pseudo Moon and Stars. I thought I had the whole world right before my eyes. Tasks were done at the same time as I searched for the books of Exupery, the Essays of Montaigne and the Reflection of Solitude by Thoreau. I was in the chatroom, inside my room with only the beating PC.
For hours, unrelenting thoughts fell on the monitor, every letter captured the moment of truth and illusions. I found rooms full of people from different places and different time zones and different clothing. I met them as ants would kiss each other and stop and go. And then I’ve learned tags on this new dimension of Science. A new dictionary on the internet.

“LOL.” LOL means laugh out loud. You say that when someone goes funny.
“BRB” means: Be right back.
“Mwah” means a big kiss. Chatmates offer and receive a bunch of flowers as token of
appreciation, a cup of steaming coffee from Starbucks, munch chocolates – Hersheys, Kisses, and Snickers, or Life Savers candy. Yummy! Pick your choice. It was a room full of everything. Illusions over life. This became not a portion of my reality, but my reality. It was fun.
Deprived of power and feeling destitute that time, I explored possibilities. The big difference was taking Jose Rizal’s “Touch me not.”

I got close connections with some chatmates all over the globe. Some names I couldn’t remember though…BUT there were two of them who became my best of friends. Here I found out that people in the chatrooms were not bad, not bums, not stupid. They were ordinary and loveable people just like you and me. I would like to think a few were machines, or maybe models to promote a product. They could even be members of a cult. I don’t know. But above all, proper rules were observed in the room. We called it “netiquette,” which means internet etiquette.

My first private chat was full of oohs and aahs. I was curious how the conversation would go. My chatmate being a gentleman taught me how to be technologically literate and updated. Adriano, I could recall his name. I couldn’t believe he was a sexy star in Italy. I tried chatting with him and when he asked me about my vital statistics, I boasted a perfect measurement of “36-24-36.” He went gaga over me, while I described the features of a beauty titlist, the softness of Venus de Milo, and the charm of Monalisa. I seduced him to beg for my virginal words, until he told me he was aching. The dialogues were spiels in a movie spinning to manifest desires. Adriano thanked me and I laughed out all my stored energy that almost drove me mad.
And you know what? He owned a villa and a number of cars that bestirred my financial desires. How I wished I could reveal my true identity, but because it was in Italy, and Rome is in Italy, the home base of the Pope – I had second thoughts… The act was disgraceful for a respected woman. Besides, I did not have that Aphrodite figure, I was more huggable like Winnie the Pooh bear than a sexually titillating bold star. We were two different worlds.

Good bye Adriano.

I continued searching for unlimited territories. I tried saying hi to all, baring sweet words. The thin line between words and emotions almost cracked like abyss. A word especially written would crush a heart and rip a soul if not thought of carefully. Yet positive words encouraged dreams, strengthened confidence, and saved lives.
Switching from one site to another searched me the stories told long ago. It reminded me the fairy tales, the narrations, and the poems, that gave hope. The stories chanted me to fairy land. The journals of Virginia Woolf, the Diary of Anne Frank, and the letters of the Philippines’ Bienvenido Santos took my breath away. And because I was Filipino, I also found Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo plus the recommended and popular articles that inspired ambitions and made heroes, and Saints. Of course, I never forgot chapters on the Book of Wisdom, the Koran, and the Holy Bible written through the ages – those that until now introduce the words of the prophets, the words of Yaweh, the words of Allah, the words of Jesus Christ.

Cyberspace gulped me. Here’s the evidence of the evolution of language, communication, and words. From the writings of the Nambikwara, the scribbles in the caves to the cultured populace, for ordinary people and literary gods – words are life.

Each passing day the computer was my pal. In the computer were my friends now, and unlike my first time – I realized these people were people who could be trusted – better than those next to me, better than those next to my house. Some of them better than families. Well done! I had my men and the rendezvous I wanted. It taught me that life could be meaningful and exciting as the night closes and the day begins.
The internet thrilled arid fields of my activities . I didn’t know why. My friends laughed at me because I was really growing mad while I tell them stories about chatting. “Find a boyfriend? Why not? I could do that, I told a friend.” And so did I. I chose names from different sites and tried to match; flaming, crossing out, comparing names I felt were charming. I thought their names suggested something, I thought it meant something. Until, I clicked my mouse to an American chatmate, and got agitated when he shouted at me. “Whore!” I knew he shouted. The texts were in BOLD letters.

My blood rose to my head, “ Be careful of what you say!” I could not fight him to the hilt because I was new in the game. He kicked me out of his domain, and I didn’t expect he’d do that. I tried to get even with this rude character.

I shouted back at him…”You are ugly!” “Ugly!” “Ugly!” The colors of his letters changed in rage. He was so angry. And shouted again “Get out of my private!”
I was shocked, his words got into my nerves. I thought he was in front of me, and he made me feel nervous. I could slap his cheeks. I thought I’d shut down. But no ---
Instead, I chose another name, “Marksman.” I clicked on Marksman. Because I thought he could shoot him. I ran to him.

Marksman was Jake. Jake was an Indian. He was a Muslim. He lived in Kuwait.
“What’s the matter?” I told Jake, the American kicked me out of his domain because he shouted impolite words at me. He told me to relax, and so I calmed down. It was kind of getting instructed. The chatroom was in a commotion. Then Jake popped up to me in his kind words, “ It’s over. Don’t be furious sweety. Take a deep breath.” Jake saved me from the rude limping white mouse who was hiding in a black cloak.
Marksman and I had become the best of friends. We exchanged ideas and he gave me good literature. His words were profound, you know Indians are identified with the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and Teresa of Calcutta. I learned a lot from his one liners and tried to memorize his evoking thoughts. He told me that I would succeed. This gave me confidence. And from here I knew that there were good people around. It’s not because of ones race, or belief, or sex, or religion, or status in life, or even education, that people become friends but people become friends because they respect each other.
Jake was so amiable. He called me Florentine which means a beautiful flower. Jake was proud to tell me that he had lots of women on the net but he had only one wife. He observed Ramadan and other Muslim holidays.
Yakub was the Muslim name of Jake. I told Yakub “We’d watch the stars together.”
After Yakub, I found another bestfriend. His name was Norman. He was based in the United Kingdom. He lived in a house on top of a hill at Yorkshire. I could imagine his house like a castle. What’s fantastic to me was because the movie “Dracula” was shot on that place. And so I was sort of intrigued about this new friend Norman. “In Yorkshire, at night, the fog was a shade of purple,” Norman told me.
Norman was a paramedic. “My job required most of my time and what’s sad is because people only recognize us during emergencies.” Though he told me, that was okay because it’s a way serving people. He was devoted his work so much and told me stories about his job, his schedules, his promotion, his new car, his favorite things. Then he laughed out loud, typing the keys, “LOL.”

Norman was real romantic. He was the sweetest person, ever in this planet telling me about my possibilities and that I was the most beautiful girl in this world. He said he would move the world if I were ill, and would be devastated if I leave him. I fell in love with him on the net, and revealed my wounded soul. Here, I’ve realized that love is faceless (anonymous). Serving the other as in reciprocal love. No one using the other. It is reflective of the Divine (Carol Wotyla). Days and nights had passed, and I did not miss a day writing him. Sometimes we’d chat, sometimes we’d just leave IM’s (instant messages). I thought he was right in front of me. He was the husband I never had and he called me a wife. I promised him a lot of things. I even swore to him and had the guts of a divorce in my marriage after 3 years and I would fly and live with him in UK. We’ve known each other for more than a year and at the close of each day we’d say good night.
One time we had a fight because I crossed some limitations asking him to come and get me. He let me recognize I was too dependent on him and that we were just living our lives in fiction. That struck my head and split my skull.

The plight made me see that I lived quite a miserable state. It opened my eyes to examine my life. I wanted to deny the facts, but it was evident that my spouse had another family. My miserable marriage would in some time, freeze me alone. Fairy tales can’t come true. And cyberspace is abstract and intangible. Should I want to fulfill something – I have to accept my spouse doesn’t love me anymore. The root of this madness is the marriage problem, not the internet gigs, not my Englishman chatmate. And so for three nights and three days, my tears wouldn’t dry living my fiction.

I acted the protagonist who could not decide how to end the fate given her by the creator of the story. Day by day I constantly went online and was surprised on the fifth day checking my inbox: “I’ve got mail!” Norman was too good to start again our unfinished love story. He said I’m sorry and cheered me up. This time he tried to weave a better story for me. I thought we were Romeo and Juliet.

I felt so loved without exerting much effort, just typing on the keyboard: words, living words. I had that intense and affectionate feeling of being the only woman in Norman’s life, a woman who satisfied a lover, a woman with great power over a man to let her bleed and bloom. Norman made me a woman who exulted her man as the toughest among all men to conquer love at the apex of eternity.

He wrote me a letter:
“I could never chain you to my heart.
That would mean that you would forever be a prisoner of my love.
I want willingly to give your life to me.
Your embrace is my wish.
Your touch is my dream.
Your love my salvation.”
I was mesmerized! He held all my senses, he embedded my heart in his and his in mine. For me, this prose was the best poem of my life.

At 12 o’clock midnight, Philippine time, we would get online for five to ten minutes then he would go. We would communicate about us, about work, and some ideas – a lot more. It was worthwhile as I’ve learned a pattern of how an Englishman speaks, his culture, and how he treats a woman, just by the email exchanges. Norman was kind and unselfish of his time chatting to me, as if I was getting a tutorial online for free. And more than that, he made me feel like a dainty wine glass carved with diamonds. He told me he would kiss me anywhere, and would be so proud to have me in his arms, “And if just holding each other’s hand would still be special,” to make me happy.

I kept a journal of our love stories immersing in my dream fiction. From sunrise to sunset my thoughts would not free me, had I not written something and bled for words for Norman. Here – I regained the dignity I’ve lost. 1440 minutes a day, Norman became my real husband. I forgot my problems. I forgot my husband, his devilish mistress.

Norman’s love conquered space and time. His mwahs taught me about a kiss that breaks the glass of age into pieces. Our hearts became one and had thought if we could make love together. It was impossible! Although at times, I felt my ears red and my body weaker every time he teased me he wished for a release. He told me we could have sons and daughters, and if none, he would still love me. “As long as you are with me.” He promised “We would live in the shelter of our love and we would make love while the sun slides down slowly. Then we would sleep together while the stars watch over us and wake again to make love with the rising sun.” Norman was my dream.
Everyday I felt so excited and so beautiful. I was not the dumped wife. I was then the wife of an Englishman. Mrs. Peri.

For a year again we chatted and lived our perfect love story. Him - my husband, and me - his wife. There was that enchanting feeling of being loved and cared for. And though the oceans parting us from different lands, I could never betray him. “Take care of my heart.” He always reminded me. “My love is for you alone.”
How would one contend with this madness? Of living in books? Of living in fairy tales? Of living a life on the net, without seeing, without knowing, and without real touching. Soulmates should I say, or could he be a creature like me? Dying for words? I knew how to differentiate fiction from nonfiction, but now I’m forgetting the rules. Am I getting crazy?

One day my spouse came home at dawn, and noticed me getting online those sleepy hours. He didn’t care. Neither did I. He often mocked, “Stop imagining things!” He exclaimed that I was a deranged writer who could never be satisfied with reality. I was imperfect and I was almost like a chip in the computer programmed for stories. I couldn’t have flesh, I couldn’t have urges, I couldn’t smack, I couldn’t satisfy. I’m only good at words, and that is all. His friends teased I was not a woman, embarrassed by the thought of accused frigidity, maybe.

While time passed by, my situation became more transparent to Norman. I asked him if we could really be together should I get an annulment. He confused me with a vague answer, “ I could not break your marriage vow, it is sacred.”
What? I turned pale and unbelieving. He was playing up…
He swooned me, got into my soul, melted my heart – let me believe our love was real now he’s telling me he couldn’t break my marriage vow? He couldn’t fight for me.

His arrogance showed like his well-chiseled pointed nose, “Don’t you know I was just making you feel good? How could you think I would marry you for real? I thought it was clear we were just making up fiction?”
I wanted to kill myself at his insensitivity. How belittling his strong words went through at me, then leaving me with a blank space. That time, I hoped I would never wake up. My marriage was a failure. And now my love affair is a fake. Love dries up on me. My lovers come and go leaving unexplained memories, drowning me in tears of remembering dreams that would never come true - so my flashes of reverie.
Norman swore to me “I adore you.” He was at my disposal.
“I am yours and you are mine. I think of you and yearn for your touch every waking moment. My heart is yours till the sun fades from the sky for the very last time...”
I lament this lying poetry. He lied to me like Genaro. I am one stupid woman.

For several days I was out of touch. I felt I was one of the most repressed persons on earth where I could not email and chat. I forgot my other friends and denied my global community on the World Wide Web (www).
Still, some friends emailed me but I didn’t email back. “Whats up? Why aren’t you getting online now? Keep in touch and take good care of yourself.”

Yes, my friends cared for me a bit, too. But I wouldn’t tell them anymore. I couldn’t figure out the limits from hereon. I felt so broken for weeks, couldn’t escape what I’ve been through. It would be funny and unreasonable for people to know that a deadly computer virus hit me, maybe a damaging Trojan lurking in my soul, crashing my humanity, feasting on my breath.
“Heaven please give me dignity!”

For months I never emailed. I swore I wouldn’t go back to my inbox, never ever. A guy tricked me again! I curse Adam. How I thirst for the male blood and urging to burn his flesh. But then, the internet isn’t human. They’re just wires. I should never be affected. I should understand…
As I am locked in an inadequate marriage, the romance of my life is only an untouchable fulfilling shadow of an earth of technology under the sky.

If for times I had happiness with this creeping madness, then I would sign in. Chat again. Maybe science would extend Norman, once my haven and a dummy, zoom another Norman in tiles and icons, chips and softwares, around space and time. And sometime, online - we would find each other; or, I would find another him among millions chatting, an offspring perhaps, for the rest of my life.

Signing off.

2nd draft.

Note: The names and identities of persons here are not true. This is a fiction story.

copyright rose flores - martinez 2009

on iwrotefiction /reposted2.25.2012 by the author
rose flores martinez

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Your Kiss: The Seventh Wave

Slush ice melting -
our mouths, one hole
of a deep grey ocean,

tender dawn,
pink fog of lips.

Twist of tongues,
soft wind mist

one breath of rain -
our mouths,  
one wave and shore

Milk flakes of time gather
epistles of hope
sweet ripples on my mouth

Round halos in my heart
your kiss, a glaze of stars...

If Shakespeare asked:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

So I shall say:
Thy kiss, I shall compare to seventh wave of seas!

rosalinda flores martinez

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Araby by James Joyce


ARABY by James Joyce

North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq. I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes, under one of which I found the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.

When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street, light from the kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner, we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. Or if Mangan's sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea, we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan's steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed, and I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs' cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O'Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'O love! O love!' many times.

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar; she said she would love to go.

'And why can't you?' I asked.

While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps, and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

'It's well for you,' she said.

'If I go,' I said, 'I will bring you something.'

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised, and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play.

On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush, and answered me curtly:

'Yes, boy, I know.'

As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the window. I felt the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.

When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high, cold, empty, gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old, garrulous woman, a pawnbroker's widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn't wait any longer, but it was after eight o'clock and she did not like to be out late, as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:

'I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.'

At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.

'The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,' he said.

I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:

'Can't you give him the money and let him go? You've kept him late enough as it is.'

My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying: 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' He asked me where I was going and, when I told him a second time, he asked me did I know The Arab's Farewell to his Steed. When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my aunt.

I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.

I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall girded at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.

Remembering with difficulty why I had come, I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.

'O, I never said such a thing!'

'O, but you did!'

'O, but I didn't!'

'Didn't she say that?'

'Yes. I heard her.'

'O, there's a... fib!'

Observing me, the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured:

'No, thank you.'

The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Hansel and Gretel9