Tinang stopped and waited before the Seňora’s gate. The dog’s came to bark at her and her baby cried out loud. Not so long, Tito, the young master, had seen and approached her while calling to his mother. Tito warded the dogs and let Tinang to enter.
Tinang passed quickly up the veranda stairs lined with ferns and many-colored bougainville. On the landing, she paused to wipe her shoes carefully. About her, the Seňora’s white and lavender butterfly orchids fluttered delicately in sunshine. She noticed through that the purple waling-waling that had once been her task to shade from the hot sun.
“Is no one covering the waling-waling now?” Tinang asked. “It will die.”
“Oh, the maid will come to cover the orchids later.” your baby. Is it a boy?”
“Yes, Ma,” Tito shouted from downstairs.” And the ears are huge!”
“What do you expect,” replied his mother; “the father is a Bagobo. Even Tinang looks like a Bagobo now.”
Tinang laughed and felt warmness for her former mistress and the boy Tito. She sat self-consciously on the sofa, for the first time a visitor. Her eyes clouded. The sight of the Seňora’s flaccidly plump figure and she sighed thinking of the long walk home through the mud, the baby’s legs straddled to her waist, and Inggo, her husband waiting for her, his body stinking of Tuba and sweat, squatting on the floor, clad only in his foul undergarments.
“Ano, Tinang, is it not a good thing to be married?” the Seňora asked, pitying Tinang because her dress gave way at the placket and pressed at her swollen breasts. It was, as a matter a fact, a dress she had given Tinang a long time ago. The Seňora commented and concerned on Tinang’s situation. They went into a cluttered room to sort out some stuff to be donated to Tinang. Tinang asked,” How is Seňor?” “Ay, he is always losing his temper over the tractor drivers. It is not the way it was when Amado was here. You remember what a good driver he was. The tractors were always kept in working condition. But now…I wonder why he left all of a sudden. He said he would be gone for only two days…”
Then the baby began to cry and Tinang tried shushed him. The Seňora told her to go to the kitchen. The maid set down milk for the baby and served her coffee and cake. The Seňora drank coffee with her and lectured about infancy care. Finally, Tinang brought up, haltingly, her purpose, to invite the Seňora to be a madrina in baptism. And the latter assented and would provide the baptismal clothes and the fee for the priest. It was time to go.
Bidding good bye to Tinang, the Seňora recalled and told Tinang she had a letter in the drugstore (post office at the same time). A letter! Tinang’s heart beat violently. She worried that someone might be dead. She hurried to the barrio’s drugstore. The man turned to her and asked if what she needs. She told him of her letter. The asked her name and it was “Constantina Tirol”, he scanned through the box of letters and pulled out one. Upon seeing the letter, her first suspicion was that something bad had happened to her sister. The man offered to read the letter for her. Thinking that she was illiterate for how she look’s like. But she refrained and immediately departed on way toward home.
The rains had made her a deep slough of clay road and Tinang followed the prints left by the men and the carabaos that had gone before her to keep from sinking in mud up to her knees. She was deep in the road before she became conscious of her shoes. In horror, she saw that they were coated with thick, black clay. Gingerly, she pulled off one shoe after the other with the hand still clutching the letter. When she had tied the shoes together with the laces and had slung them on an arm, the baby, the bundle, and the letter were all smeared with mud.
There must be a place to put the baby down, she thought, desperate now about the letter. She walked on until she spotted a corner of a field where cornhusks were scattered under a kamansi tree. She shoved together a pile of husks with her foot and laid the baby down upon it. With a sigh, she drew the letter from the envelope. She stared at the letter which was written in English.
My dearest Tinay,
Hello, how is life getting along? Are you still in good condition? As for myself, the same as usual. But you’re far from my side. It is not easy to be far from our lover.
Tinay, do you still love me? I hope your kind and generous heart will never fade. Somebody or somehow I’ll be there again to fulfill our promise.
Many weeks and months have elapsed. Still I remember our bygone days. Especially when I was suffering with the heat of the tractor under the heat of the sun. I was always in despair until I imagine your personal appearance coming forward bearing the sweetest smile that enabled me to view the distant horizon.
Tinay, I could not return because I found that my mother was very ill. That I was not able to take you as a partner of life. Please respond to my missive at once so that I know whether you still love me or not. I hope you did not love anybody except myself.
I think I am going beyond the limit of your leisure hour, so I close with best wishes to you, my friends Gonding, Serafin, Bondio, etc.
P.S.My mother died last month.
Address your letter:
Mr. Amado Galauran
It was Tinang’s first love letter. A flush spread over her face and crept into her body. She read the letter again. “It is not easy to be far from our lover…Somebody or somehow I’ll be there again to fulfill our promise…” Tinang was intoxicated. She pressed herself against the kamansi tree.
And she cried, remembering the young girl she was less than two years ago when she would take food to the Seňor in the field and the laborers would eye her furtively. Before she went away to work, she had gone to school and had reached the sixth grade. Her skin too, was not as dark as those of the girls who worked in the fields weeding around the clumps of abaca. Her lower lip jutted out disdainfully when the farm hands spoke to her with many flattering words. She laughed when a Bagobo with two hectares of land asked her to marry him. It was only Amado, the tractor driver who could look to at her and make her lower her eyes. He was very dark and wore filthy and torn clothes on the farm but on Saturdays when he came up to the house for his week’s salary, his hair was slicked down and he would be dressed as well as Mr. Jacinto, the schoolteacher. Once he told her that he would study in the city night schools and take up mechanical engineering someday. He had not said much more to her but one afternoon when she was bidden to take some bolts and tools to him in the field, a great excitement came over her. The shadows moved fitfully in the bamboo grooves she passed and the cool November air edged into her nostrils sharply. He stood unmoving beside the tractor with tools and parts scattered on the ground around him. His eyes a black glow as he watched her draw near. When she held out the bolts, he seized her wrist and said: “Come,” pulling her to the screen of trees beyond. She resisted but his arms were strong. He embraced her roughly and awkwardly, and she trembled and gasped and clung to him….
A little green snake slithered languidly into the tall grass a few yards from the kamansi tree. Tinang started violently and remembered her child. It lay motionless on the mat of husk. With a shriek she grabbed it wildly and hugged it close. The baby awoke from its sleep and cried lustily. Ave Maria Santisima. Do not punish me, she prayed searching the baby’s skin for marks. Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed.