May Day Eve- Nick Joaquin (excerpt)

11 Dec

May Day Eve


Nick Joaquin


(Summary: Doña Agueda’a little daughter nestled at her mother’s breast and listened intently to her mother’s story about an incident One evening many, many years ago. As Doña Agueda recounted, it was the first evening of May and a party had been held at the Montiya home for some young Filipino men who had just returned home from Europe. The party had ended, the visitors had gone home in their carriages, the girls who were staying for the night had been herded upstairs to the bedroom, and the men, a Montiya son among them, in whose honor the party had been held, had gone out of for more merriment.

It was the first evening of May and, according to Anastacia, the servant in charge of the girls who had elected to stay the evening with the Montiya daughter. Witches were abroad for it was a night of divination, a night of love, and if one cared to peer into a mirror, one would behold the face of the person that he or she would marry. One had to take a candle, go alone into a dark room which ahd a mirror in it, go to the mirror, close one’s eyes and say:

“Mirror, mirror

Show to me

Him whose woman

I will be.”

And if everything went all right the face of the man one would marry would appear above the left shoulder. But if something went wrong, one would see the Devil.

Against the protests of her friends and old Anastacia, Doña Agueda had fled down the stairs to the sala where, earlier, she had noticed a mirror. Holding a lighted candle, she had approached fearfully the big antique mirror with the gold frame carved into leaves and flowers and mysterious curlicues.

Closing her eyes, she had whispered the incantation but such a terror took hold of her that she felt unable to move until she heard a step behind her. Instantly, she opened her eyes.)

“And what did you see, Mama? Oh what was it?”

But Doña Agueda had forgotten the little girl on her lap: she was staring past the curly head nestling at her breast and seeing herself in the big mirror hanging in the room. It was the same room and the same mirror but the face she now saw in it was an old face-a hard, bitter, vengeful face, framed in graying hair, and so sadly altered, so sadly different from that other face like a white mask, that fresh young face like a pure mask that she had brought before this mirror one wild May Day midnight years and years ago…

“But what was it, Mama? Oh, please go on! What did you see?”

Doña Agueda looked down at her daughter but her face did not soften though her eyes were filled with tears. “I saw the devil!” she said bitterly.

The child blanched. “The devil, Mama? Oh…Oh!”

“Yes, my love. I opened my eyes and there in the mirror, smiling at me over my left shoulder, was the face of the devil.”

“Oh, my poor little Mama! And were you very frightened?”

“You can imagine. And that is why good little girls do not look into mirrors except when their mothers tell them. You must stop this naughty habit, darling, of admiring yourself in every mirror you pass-or you may see something frightful some day.”

“But the devil, Mama-what did he look like?”

“Well, let me see…He had curly hair and a scar on his cheek…”

“Like the scar of Papa?’

“Well, yes. But this of the devil was a scar of sin, while that of your Papa is a scar of honor. Or so he says.”

“Go on about the devil.”

“Well, he had mustaches.”

“Like those of Papa?”

“Oh no. Those of your Papa are dirty and graying and smell horribly of tobacco, while those of the devil were very black and elegant – oh, how elegant!”

“And did he have horns and tails?”

The mother’s lip curled. “Yes, he did! But, alas, I could not see them at that time. All I could see were his fine clothes, his flashing eyes, his curly hair and mustaches.”

“And did he speak to you, Mama?”

“Yes…yes, he spoke to me,” said Doña Agueda. And bowing her graying head, she wept.

“Charms like yours have no need for a candle, fair one,” he had said, smiling at her in the mirror and stepping back to give her a low mocking bow. She had whirled around and glared at him and he had burst into laughter.” But I remember you!” he cried. “You are Agueda, whom I left a mere infant and came home to find a tremendous beauty, and I danced a waltz with you but you would not give me the polka.”

“Let me pass,” she muttered fiercely, for he was barring her way.

“But I want to dance the polka with you, fair one,” he said,

So they stood before the mirror; their panting breath the only sound in the dark room; the candle shining between them and flashing their shadows to the wall. And young BadoyMontiya (who had crept home very drunk to pass out quietly in bed) suddenly found awake and ready for anything. His eyes sparkled and the scar on his face gleamed scarlet.

“Let me pass!” she cried again, in a voice of fury, but he grasped her by the wrist.

“No” he smiled. “Not until we have danced.”

“Go to the devil!”

“What a temper has my serrana!”

“I am not your serrana!”

“Whose, then? Someone I know? Someone I have offended grievously? Because you treat men, you treat all my friends like your mortal enemies.”

“And why not?” she demanded, jerking her wrist away and flashing her teeth in his face. “Oh, how I detest you, you pompous young men! You go to Europe and you come back elegant lords and we poor girls are too tame to please you. We have no grace like the Parisiennes, we have no fire like the Sevillian, and we have no salt. No salt, no salt! Aie, how you weary me, how you bore me, you fastidious young men!”

“Come, come-how do you know about us?”

“I have heard you talking, I have heard you talking among yourselves, and I despise the pack of you!”

“But clearly you do not despise yourself, Señorita. You come to admire your charms in the mirror even in the middle of the night!”

She turned livid and he had a moment of malicious satisfaction.

“I was not admiring myself, Sir!”

“You were admiring the moon perhaps?”

“Oh!” she gasped, and burst into tears. The candle dropped from her and she covered her face and sobbed piteously. The candle had gone out and they stood in darkness, and young Badoy was conscience-stricken.

“Oh, do not cry, little one! Oh, please forgive me! Please do not cry! But what a brute I am! I was drunk, little one, I was drunk and knew not what I said.”

He groped and found her hand and touched it to his lips. She shuddered in her white gown.

“Let me go,” she moaned, and tugged feebly.

“No. Say you forgive me first. Say you forgive me, Agueda.”

But instead she pulled his hand to her mouth and bit-bit so sharply into the knuckles that he cried with pain and lashed out with his other hand – lashed out and hit the air, for she was gone, she had fled, and he heard the rustling of her skirts up the stairs as he furiously sucked his bleeding fingers.

Cruel thoughts raced through his head: he would go and tell his mother and make her turn the savage girl out of the house-or he would go himself to the girl’s room and drag her out of bed and slap, slap her silly face! But at the same time he was thinking that they were all going up to Antipolo in the morning and was already planning how he would maneuver himself into the same boat with her.

Oh, he would have his revenge, he would make her pay, that little harlot! She would suffer for this, he thought greedily, licking his bleeding knuckles. But-Judas! –what eyes she had! And what a pretty color she turned when angry! He remembered her bare shoulders: gold in the candlelight and delicately furred. He saw the mobile insolence of her neck, and her taut breasts steady in the fluid gown. Son of a Turk, she was quite enchanting! How could she think she had not fire or grace? Andno salt? An arroba she had of it!

“…No lack of salt in the chrism

At the moment of thy baptism!”

He sang aloud in the dark room and suddenly realized that he had fallen madly in love with her. He ached intensely to see her again – at one! – to touch her hand, her hair; to hear her harsh voice. He ran to the window and flung open the casements and the beauty of the night struck him back like a blow. It was May, it was summer, and he was young – young! –and deliriously in love. Such a happiness welled up within him the tears spurted from his eyes.

But he did not forgive her – no! He would still maker her pay, he would still have his revenge, he thought viciously, and kissed his wounded fingers. But what a night it had been! “I will never forget this night!” he thought aloud in an awed voice, standing by the window in the dark room, the tears in his eyes and the wind in his hair and his bleeding knuckles pressed to his mouth.

But, alas, the heart forgets; the heart is distracted; and Maytime passes, summer ends; the storms break over the rot-ripe orchards and the heart grows old; while the hours, the days, the months, and the years pile up and pile up, till the mind becomes too crowded, too confused; dust gathers in it; cobwebs multiple; the walls darken and fall into ruin and decay; the memory perishes…and there came a time when Don BadoyMontiya walked home through a May Day midnight without remembering, without even caring to remember, being merely concerned in feeling his way across the street with his cane; his eyes having grown quite dim; and his legs uncertain for he was old; he was over sixty; he was very stooped and shriveled old man with white hair and mustaches, coming home from a secret meeting of conspirators; his mind still resounding with the speeches and his patriot heart still exultant as he picked his way up the steps to the front door and inside into the slumbering darkness of the house; wholly unconscious of the May night; till on his way down the hall, chancing to glance into the sala, he shuddered, he stopped, his blood ran cold – for he had seen a face in the mirror there – a ghostly candlelit face with the eyes closed and the lips moving, a face that he suddenly felt he had seen before though it was a full minute before the lost memory came flowing, came tiding back, so over flooding the actual moment and so swiftly washing months and years that he was left suddenly young again: he was a gay young buck again, lately come from Europe: He had been dancing all night; he was very drunk, he stopped in the doorway; he saw a face in the dark; he cried out…And the lad standing before the mirror (for it was a lad in a night gown) jumped with fright and almost dropped his candle, but looking around seeing the old man, laughed out with relief and came running.

“Oh, Grandpa, how you frightened me!”

Don Badoy had turned very pale. “So it was you, you, young bandit! And what is all this, hey? What are you doing here at this hour?”

“Nothing, Grandpa. I was only…I am only.”

“Yes, you are the great Señor Only and how delighted I am to make your acquaintance, Señor Only! But if I break this cane on your head you may wish you were someone else, Sir!”

“It was just foolishness, Grandpa. They told me I would see my wife.”

“wife? What wife?”

“Mine. The boys at school said I would see her if I looked in a mirror tonight and said:

“Mirror, mirror,

            Show to me

            Her whose lover

            I will be.”

Don Badoy cackled ruefully. He took the boy by the hair, pulled him along into the room, sat down on a chair, and drew the boy between his knees. “Now, put your candle down on the floor, so, and let us talk this over. So you want your wife already, hey? You want to see her in advance, hey? But of you know that these are wicked games and that wicked boys who play them are in danger of seeing horrors?”

“Well, the boys did warn me I might see a witch instead.”

“Exactly! A witch so horrible you may die of fright. And she will bewitch you, she will torture you, she will eat your heart and drink your blood.”

“Oh, come now, Grandpa. This is 1890. There are no witches anymore.”

“Oh no, my young Voltaire! And what if I tell you that I myself have seen a witch?”

“You? Where?”

(Don Badoy, then tells of the incident, long ago, when he saw the young Agueda, the boy’s grandmother, in the mirror. He doesn’t mention names, though, referring to Agueda as a beautiful witch who tortured him, ate his heart, and drank his blood. It is only then that the boy repeats what his grandmother had told his mother: that Doña Agueda, herself, had seen the devil in the very same mirror.

Don Badoy is taken aback. His mind goes back to the past when he had fallen in love with the beautiful girl he saw in the mirror and how this beauty had become a “withered consumptive, lashing out with her cruel tongue, her eye like live coals; her face like ashes.” And now “nothing but a name on a stone in a graveyard” – and his heart is torn with grief.)


-Reyes, Linda D. and Ribo, Lourdes M. “Language in Literature Philippine Setting, High School Series I”. Vibal Publishing House, Inc., Quezon City,1998.


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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


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