short fictional story by Benjamin Claveria,
submitted in 1969, to the Philippine
Free Press (published in August
2, 1969 - page 26), which was accepted at once
and published without any editing.
I was 21 when I became a
guard in this provincial jail. It seems only
yesterday, but I have been here almost 20 years.
And I have seen many strange things, for here one
can often catch a glimpse of life's intensest
moments. But I think the strangest of them all
was the case of a prisoner named Macario.
It started on an
evening about five years after I came here. I was
on duty at the main gate. The night was perfect -
a nearly full moon and cloudless skies. I was
thinking of the girl I was about to marry and
whom I did marry soon afterwards - may her soul
rest in peace! But suddenly a wind arose, the
skies darkened, and rain began to fall in sheets.
In this region, downpours are rare in April, but
the suddenness of that one made it even more so.
The old people in my barrio say that a sudden
change in the weather like that can mean only one
thing - somebody has just met a violent death.
But, of course I don not believe in superstitions.
As my science teacher in high school used to tell
us, if one persists in believing in superstitions
after studying science, he might as well not have
gone to school at all.
As suddenly as
the rain had begun, it stopped. The moon shone in
the rain-washed skies more brightly than before.
And once more I was lost in pleasant reveries
about my forthcoming marriage.
I was rudely
awakened from my musings by loud and persistent
knocking at the gate and shouts of "Guard,
guard!" I peeped through a hole in the gate
and saw two policemen and two constabulary
soldiers with a man in khaki pants and a white
shirt. I let them in and the man was turned over
to our custody.
His name was
Macario ( I have forgotten his surname) and he
had just killed the prettiest taxi dancer in town.
One of the policeman gave me a brief account of
what had happened.
We had two
cabarets in this town. The Whoopee was the better
of the two. At least it was bigger and had four
or five musicians in the orchestra. The Seventh
Heaven usually had only two musicians. One of
them kicked the wall behind him as a bass drum.
The night the
Whoopee had opened as usual at eight o'clock and
right from the opening piece our prison guest had
taken Lily, the prettiest of the dancers and
never allowed her to go back to her seat. At
about eleven, the orchestra was playing a waltz.
The hall was quite dark since the only light
during waltzes came from one weak bulb shaded so
that its light would fall only on the ticket
seller's booth and the chairs of the dancers. The
couples on the floor had sought the darkest
corners of the hall, engrossed in other things
than dancing, scarcely moving, unmindful of the
faltering music of the half-asleep musicians. The
handful of onlookers that remained, regular
denizens of the place, were dosing, too sleepy to
be interested in what the dancers were doing, yet
too lazy to go home and get a proper sleep.
scream pierced the somnolent air and the lights
were hurriedly turned on. In one corner stood
Macario wild-eyed, with a bloody Batangas knife
in his hand. At his feet was the crumbled figure
of Lily. There had been only one clean stab wound.
Lily was beyond help.
taken to the police headquarters for questioning.
But the police found out that he was not fit to
give any statement - he was in such a state of
shock that he could hardly talk. So he was
brought to us, the municipal jail being under
repair at that time.
him in a cell, I went back to my post. As before,
everything was beautiful and serene. But I was no
longer aware of the beauty of the tropic moon. I
was thinking of a man in faded khaki pants and a
blood-splattered white shirt. What were his
thoughts? What were his feelings? Was he
During all the
time Macario was with us, he barely touched his
food. He behaved like one in a trance. He seemed
oblivious of his surroundings.
Three days later,
I was on night duty again. Just after the lights
were turned off to signal bedtime for the
prisoners, I heard a hysterical scream coming
from Macario's cell. I ran and opened the door.
There was Macario shuddering so violently that I
could hear his teeth chatter. In all my life, I
had never seen anybody in such a state of mortal
passed before he became aware of my presence.
Then he flung himself at my feet, put his arms
around my knees, and whimpered, "Please sir,
don't leave me alone. do anything with with me,
but please don't leave me alone."
I asked what it
was that so drained him of his manhood.
"It is Lily."
he whispered. "She beacons me to dance with
her. She keeps dancing in front of me. But she
has no head! Please, sir, don't leave me alone."
Curtly and - I
realize now - cruelly, I told him that a man
brave enough to kill a woman should be brave
enoughh to face her ghost. Then I locked the door
behind me and went back to my post near the gate.
About an hour
later, just as the warden had come in for one of
his inspections, the same horror-filled screams
issued from Macario's cell. The warden and I ran
to the cell and found Macario babbling
incoherently. He was shuddering so much that he
could hardly hold himself up. I suggested that we
call a doctor, for Macario's face was deathly
pale. But the warden said there was no need.
Again it took a
minute or two before Macario became aware of our
presence. When he saw the warden, he said, "Sir,
please don't leave me alone. Lily insists that I
dance with her. But she has no head. Please don't
leave me alone."
We tried to calm
Macario. Since he seemed relieved when allowed to
talk, we let him talk on. In this way, we learned
the story of his life.
This is Macario's
I NEVER knew my
father. As far back as I can remember, it had
always been my mother and me. She supported
herself and me by doing odd jobs for our
neighbors. Sometimes she would be away all day
sewing or laundering for one family. Another time
she would take care of the household chores of a
neighbor who had just delivered a child. Or she
would be asked to help at a party and stay until
the party was over. Then she would wake me up no
matter how late the hour and make me eat some of
the left-over party food that had been given to
When I was
fifteen, she got sick with pneumonia. In a week,
she was dead and I was alone in the world.
The little house
where we had always lived was sold to the owner
of the lot on which it stood to help pay for her
funeral. After she was buried, a widow named
Valentina, whom I called Na Tina, although she
was not really my aunt and in fact was no
relation at all, invited me to live with her. She
was poor but she told me, "If we eat, you
will also eat."
I went to live
with her family. But from the beginning, I tried
never to be an added burden, for the poor have
their pride too. Sometimes they have even more
pride than the rich.
The day after
the funeral, I went out to earn a living. Like my
mother, I grabbed at any odd job that came my way.
I sold bread and got ten per cent of the sales
plus a cup of coffee and two loaves of pan de sal
for breakfast. But I had to wake up at three o'clock
in the morning or else all the other boys would
be ahead of me and I would have no bread to sell.
I shined shoes. I sold newspapers and sweepstakes
tickets. I would go to the bus terminal and earn
a few centavos helping the passengers with their
baggage. Life was hard. Many times I was tempted
to steal as some of my companions did. But my
poor mother had taught me honesty too well. I
would turn over to Na Tina my pitifully meager
earnings, keeping only enough for snacks,
haircuts, some badly needed clothes, and an
occasional movie at one of our bedbug-infested
When I was
sixteen, I became a conductor for an old Ford car
that was all the time breaking down. Perhaps this
was due to the fact that it was long overdue at
the junk pile. Furthermore, in spite of the
notice on the windshield that read "6-1/2
Pass, inc. Driver," it often carried as many
as sixteen passengers excluding the driver and me.
I became an expert at squeezing the biggest
number of people into the small interior of the
car. I did not earn much as a conductor, but I
learned to drive.
As soon as I
knew how to drive, I obtained a driver's license
by lying about my age. Then a kindly Chinese
trader named Ko Nga hired me to drive his truck
for thirty pesos a month with meals and the use
of a dark cubicle over his garage as my sleeping
quarters. For the first time in my life I had a
Not long after I
became a driver, I met Lily. When I started to
have my clothes laundered by her mother, Tiang
Sepa. Lily ws just a tall, angular kid of
fourteen. Because of poverty, she had stopped
going to school.
I hardly noticed
her at first. But, all at once, she seemed to
have grown into a woman. When she brought my
clean clothes to my room over the garage, she no
longer looked at me with the direct gaze of child
but with the shy glances of a girl aware of her
charms. She was big for her age. She still wore
children's clothes sometimes, but her blouses
were tight over her breasts. Her legs were long
and shapely. And she had a knack of fixing her
hair that made her look like a princess to me.
She was beautiful.
I fell in love
with her. And I convinced myself that she loved
me in return. This must have been what was wrong
with us from the start - I must have loved her
too much, or she must have loved me too little,
mother seemed to think it the most logical thing
in the world for us to get married. In fact it
was she who interrupted us while we were
engrossed in lovers' talk one evening to remark.
"If you love each other, why don't you get
We saw no reason
to disregard her suggestion. But a church wedding
was not of the question. So, late one afternoon,
we went to the office of the justice of the peace
and became man and wife. Ko Nga and his Filipino
wife acted as witnesses. As wedding gifts, they
gave us a supper at a Chinese restaurant, handed
Lily a crisp tense bill as a nest-egg, and gave
me a three-day vacation.
restaurant, Lily, Tiang Sepa, whom I began to
call Inay, and I dropped in at my room over the
garage and carried my few possessions to their
one room house. I gave Inay my mat and she spread
it as far away as possible from the corner of the
room where she and Lily used to sleep together,
while I took her place beside Lily.
to be asleep as soon as she lay down less than
two meters away from us on the frail, split-bamboo
floor. That night I learned why couples who can
afford to do so spend their honeymoon in some
hotel away from home.
For a short time,
I was deliriously happy. Lily was like a delicate
wild flower. I thought I was the luckiest fellow
in the world.
But, after a few
weeks, lily began to change. She developed a
taste for expensive clothes and jewelry. She
would not eat if we had only rice and vegetables
or dried fish. Inay and I thought that she was in
the early stages of pregnancy, so we humored her.
When she would not eat with us after repeated
urgings, we would sit down and eat our poor man's
meal. Then Inay would go to the restaurant and
buy some bijon or pancit for Lily and she would
Lily cajoled me
into buying her a watch. She was eternally
complaining that she did not have any '"decent"
clothes. She became an avid reader of romantic
stories in the vernacular and would spend our
last centavo on a new issue of her favorite
magazine. She insisted on seeing all the native
films shown in our town. At first I used to
accompany her. I enjoyed the envious glances of
the loiterers at the street corners when we
passed by. But I soon realized that we could not
afford the luxury of going to the movies together.
So I let her go alone. She would go out after
lunch and come home after Inay and I had eaten
supper. Usually, she had already supped at a
panciteria. But no matter how hard I tried to
please her, she was never satisfied.
We tried to
reason with her. She would listen neither to Inay
nor me. When I got angry with her, she would
simply stop talking to me. For a day or two I
would give her the same silent treatment. Then my
need for her would make me a beggar, and I would
apologize to her even if I knew she was entirely
at fault. We often quarreled - it was always I
who asked for forgiveness.
We had a violent
quarrel a few days before her fifteenth birthday.
The silent, cold war between us had lasted longer
than usual, for I had resolved not to give in to
her this once. But when her birthday came, I gave
her the pair of earrings she had long admired at
the lone jewelry store in our town. I had agreed
to pay the store almost one-fourth of my monthly
income for the next twelve months in order to get
them for her. She put on my peace offering and
was loving to me.
I began to hope
that she had changed at last. Perhaps, as Inay
sometimes said, everything had been caused by her
immaturity. Then a few weeks later, when I
returned home late one evening after a long, hot
and dusty trip over ill-kept roads, Inay met me
at the door with the news that Lily had gone away
taking all her belongings with her.
I was stunned. I
thought of a hundred different things to do but
ended with doing nothing at all. I consoled
myself with the thought that she would soon
realize how foolishly she had acted and come home
back to me.
weeks I tried to forget her. I continued to live
with Inay. We seldom mentioned Lily to each other.
I tried to bury myself in work, but I lived the
life of the damned. I was continually reminded of
her by a thousand different things - a dress that
looked like one of hers, a smile, a manner of
slowly closing and opening the eyes, the slight
swaying of the hips of a girl. Every time I came
home from work, there was a sudden emptiness in
my heart. In fact I dreaded coming home; but I
pitied Inay, my poor, long-suffering mother-in-law,
who seemed to feel embarrassed for Lily's faults.
I took to
drinking. I gambled. I found other women. But I
could not forget Lily. All the while, even when I
was with another woman, my heart ached for her.
Lily had got
into my blood. I would stretch an arm for her in
the middle of the night and then would remember
that she was not with me, that I did not even
know with whom she was sleeping at the moment.
Devilish thought! My blood would boil and I would
toss on my mat the rest of the evening.
After one such
sleepless night, I told Inay that I had decided
to look for Lily. She seemed pleased at my
decision. She helped me pack a few clothes then
told me to take good care of myself and return at
once as soon as I had found Lily. I gave her one-half
of the small amount of money I had and said
In the port city
near our town, I learned that Lily had sailed for
Manila. So I followed her there. I traced her in
a little restaurant where she had worked as a
waitress, but she had not stayed long. I learned
that she later became a salesgirl, a beauty
parlor assistant then a taxi dancer. I received
numerous tips about her and I tried to follow up
every one. When I could not find her in Manila, I
started going from town to town, from province to
province. Whenever my money gave out, I would
settle down and get a job until I had saved a
little. Then I would tell my surprised employer
that I was quitting and go on my long search
For many months
my search was fruitless. Then I came to this
capital town and learned that Lily was a dancer
at the Whoopee Cabaret. I went there as soon as
the doors were opened. My heart was pounding
wildly. When the dancers came out, I saw that she
was wearing the earrings I had given her on her
birthday. She was more beautiful than ever.
As soon as the
orchestra started playing, I led her to the
farthest corner of the hall. I had planned a
thousand times what to do when we met. I knew by
heart what to say to her to make her see her
ungratefulness, to make her realize how cruel she
had been to me. But when I held her in my arms,
felt her soft bosom, and breathed the heady scent
she was wearing, I became a slobbering fool. I
could not even speak at first. I could not even
hide my tears of joy. I could merely press her
close to me and kiss her hungrily.
I told her that
I forgave her for everything she had made me
suffer. I reminded her of Inay back in our town,
all alone waiting for us. The only answer I could
get from her was a non-committal smile.
As the night
wore on, I became frantic. I related to her how
much I had sacrificed looking for her. I told her
that I would do anything she wanted if she would
only go back with me. Upon my insistence, she
finally gave me an answer. She said that she
could not go with me without even telling me why.
As soon as she
said that, the whole world seemed to reel and
turn black. All I remember now is Lily kneeling
at my feet and the pool of blood widening on the
And now she
wants me to dance with her - and she has no head!
Please do not leave me alone!
ordered another detention prisoner to stay with
Macario. We thought this would stop his fears. We
were mistaken. Macario's cell-mate complained
that Macario never slept long without beginning
to talk. If not awakened at once he would start
screaming. The warden gave Macario a new cell-mate
The night before
he was to be arraigned, Macario appeared more
troubled than usual. Many of the prisoners said
that they could not sleep because of Macario's
screams. But, towards morning, he became calmer.
He was heard talking as if in pleasant
conversation with someone. Then all was quiet and
everybody was thankful that at last Macario was
just before roll call, Macario's latest cell-mate
gave an excited shout. When the corporal of the
guards and I ran to their cell, we saw that
Macario was dead. For a moment we thought that it
was somebody else, for Macario looked so
different in death. His face was a picture of
peace; on his lips was the beginning of a smile.