It seems to me that the whole village is just crawling with them—neighbors, professionals, government employees, even my own kin—lilintian! I don’t know how I’ve managed to live this old and managed to escape from these assorted maniacs and a fate worse than death, although I’ve seen many who have enjoyed that fate worse than …. But I caught myself from being repetitious. Yes, once a teacher always a teacher, and although I’ve been an English supervisor these five years now I still teach the rules of composition better than any of them—better than these new tissle-tassle methods that lead to nowhere! But back to these assorted maniacs. Why, even in our school there’s that Mr. Jover. Don’t ever make the mistake of letting him take you home. Oh, not even with a group—unless you make sure you don’t sit beside him because, Blessed Arkangel! he has a way of maneuvering-maneuvering and before you know it he’ll have his paws right on your blossoms quite by improbable accident. Or you’ll feel an arm pass by through your hip. His maneuvering is quite famous and he makes no discrimination between young and old, plain or pretty, so that you can’t even feel complimented by it. Why, even Mrs. Olarte the very staid Super from Manila was a victim of this maneuvering, and if it were not such an awkward thing to put on paper, she would have recommended his demotion. What would happen to poor Mrs. Jover who is such a pretty but nervous little wife who is hardly seen at all, what with her nine children—and some more coming, you can be sure. You’d think he would be satisfied with that? But no, some men are never, never satisfied—nor some women, for that matter.
There’s a woman here who, having produced a dozen children (at least they seem that many), you’d think would retire blissfully from the business after being widowed. But no—she has put on, instead, all the trappings of young maidenhood, ribbons and frills and all, and if I were the betting type I’d put my money on her getting her man before any of her grown-up daughters do. And they are most attractive girls. But it’s been a cause of concern to her close friends—the way she carries on with her “business contacts” as she calls them. We call them “married bachelors.”
It’s the daughters we worry about—never mind her, old sow that she is—but really, having those men run her house! You know, I used to board at their house after her husband died. I was the only boarder then, but gradually, she took on an agent and then another agent and that’s when I decided to move out. She would make her daughters accompany her on dates to make things more proper, she thinks. You can be sure the legitimate bachelors are staying away from the girls.
I’ve always been one to mind my own business, but I think it’s my Christian duty to give fair warning to those who are blinded by folly or passion. Some people mistake advice for interference, and to them I say, “Get yourselves pregnant! Who cares?!”
But when it comes to close kin like the cousin I stay with—as you know, she seems to be the sweetest, most proper person in the world and she’s a very good teacher—well, I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t think you could keep a secret. Some people I just trust instinctively and I’m a person who goes by instinct. This cousin of mine, just between us, is a woman with a past. Like that co-teacher of yours. You didn’t know she had a child by a married man, do you? I gave her the benefit of my special information service, but for that she repaid me with Hate. Yes, pure unalloyed Hate!
Now I know there’s nothing said behind my back that I don’t eventually hear. I know for a fact that some say I have a bad case of “sour grapes.” I have my private host of vilifiers, but being an old maid and being the only one who still speaks out against foolishness, it would be natural that they will speak against me. But if I speak against bared thighs, it’s not because I have no thighs nor knees to show off. In my day, it was what showed below the neck that had men’s eyes popping. As for bare backs, we had more back exposure than any of you moderns dare show. All right, so fashion is merely a different technique of exposure; but what I’m trying to say is that there is a difference in attitude and the men no longer have to strain to see. Let’s put it this way, the state of embarrassment belonged properly to women then; now it belongs to the men.
And just because I am not married doesn’t prove that our method didn’t work, because I had my string of admirers too, and, as you can see, I am no dried-up twig like your Miss Tuazon. But the ones who came to admire, I could not bear to look upon. And the one I could have cared for—Oy! he looked at me and, as the poets say, a thousand meanings converged in that look. But for some reason, he never said anything. Why, I’ve asked myself repeatedly—was it because I seemed too proud? He should have known it was to disguise my feelings. The most he said was, Oh, I remember it so well. It seemed the words came out of nowhere. He said, “The temerity of my tongue cannot match the boldness of my heart.”
And so I waited for the bold moment to come. In the meantime, my minx of a cousin made a play for him, asking him to help her with her math and preparing all sorts of delicacies and pretending she had made them. She even fainted at the least provocation! All these ruses! And do you know he didn’t marry her either? When it seemed she would catch him, he went off to another town. And after a while, he married a most non-descript person, I am told, and they have seven children—all boys. He never amounted to anything much, and I don’t wonder—with such a person for a wife!
I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. You can be sure I don’t go telling everyone the story of my life. But I’ve not regretted it—not marrying, I mean. Especially when I look at all the funny couples God has put together and the problems they have with their children.
I know I’m no longer the sweet demure person I was, but who cares about that? I can be what I am. And those who don’t like it can stay away—especially those sick maniacs from this town.
Aida Rivera Ford is writing her memoirs even as she remains active in the arts and literary scene in the city.