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Sunset by Paz Latorena


The Man
She came to him out of the rain like a rabbit of flotsam washed from the distant seas to the shore
by uncertain tides. The wind blew from the east that night and as the door of the rustly shop
opened westward, it slammed shut behind her with a sort of vicious cheated force when she
hurried in. The whole place rocked with the impact and startled him as he sat on a stool mending
a pair of brown shoes in the dim light of a small, red lamp that hung from the blackened sawali
Outside the shop, the rain lashed down the narrow street with the fury of an aroused maniac, a
steady flood from a sky of impenetrable darkness. The water streamed along the gutters,
foaming at the heaps of filth congested there, rejected scraps of food, bits of yellow paper,
pieces of rags, and untidy dirt. In that weather, no lights shone along Barranco, the heart of the
slums of the northern district, early as the hour still was.
He stood up and eyed her uncertainly as she leaned heavily against the threshold, a slender halfdrowned wisp of a woman clutching a faded violet scarf tightly around her narrow chest.
Yes? he said with rising inflection.
She looked around the small shop- it was shabby but it was clean- and then at him as he stood
under the red lamp, tall in his sleeveless undershirt and dark-blue trousers with white stripes.
I was caught by the rain, she exclaimed in a voice hardly above a whisper, this was the only
place with a light.
She coughed a dry, unnatural sound that shook her small body from head to foot.
So I came in, she gasped on, but now I shall go.
She turned to the door and opened it. The rain darted in and awoke him from his trance- like
immobility and silence.
Dont, he protested, striding to the door and closing it with finality. Sit down and wait for the
rain to stop.
She looked up and a tired smile of gratitude lighted up her face for a moment.
There was his stool in the middle of the small shop, directly under the red lamp, and there was a
small papag in a corner by the small, tightly closed window. He led her to that. The only chair in
the shop had been borrowed that afternoon by a neighbor and had not yet been returned; he
apologized with an embarrassed laugh.
The papag creaked unpleasantly as she sat down without a word. She cast off the wet scarf from
her shoulders with a quick movement, as if its dampness had suddenly become oppressive and
He sat on the stool once more and resumed his work.
Did she live far? was his tentative query.
She nodded.
Was she looking for someone living in the neighborhood?

Again the mute answer.

There were other things he wanted to know but the questions that surged to his lips were stilled
by her reticence.
He glanced at her furtively. There was something vaguely disturbing in her stillness; her feet
barely touched the floor, her hands were quietly folded on her lap, her eyes were turned down,
seemingly intent on the pattern of her red chinelas.
The silence deepened, lengthened into minutes. A musty odor of damp earth and humid air hung
heavily in the room. Dark wetness crept in through the slits in the nipa wall. The wind continued
the havoc without, and in all the world there seemed to be no other sound but the drip, drip on
the roof.
Then, as suddenly as it had come, the rain stopped. From somewhere in the distance a church
bell made itself heard and tolled the hour.
He looked up. The woman had fallen asleep. She had dropped on one side, and one of her arms
pillowed her head while the other was carelessly thrown across her breast.
He put his work down and lighted a stumpy candlestick.
He stood up and made his way to the corner to wake her up.
Drops of water still glistened on the mass of black hair that was knotted loosely at that back of
her head. A stray tendril threw its shadow across her sleeping face. The large mouth with its full
but colorless lips was slightly parted by her irregular breathing.
He gazed at her for a long while- the mass of black hair, the closed eyes with their long lashes
the tips of which touched the soft brown of her cheeks. And a sudden desire to touch her face
overwhelmed him as he stood above her. She was so small, so soft, so still in the flickering
candle light.
He remembered that she had looked at him from the door with eyes made enormous by dark
circles under them. In the dim light of the lamp he had not discerned the color of those eyes.
Were they black? Or brown?
They were dark-brown in the clear morning when Barranco woke up to find a strange woman in
the cobblers shop. And they were sad as they met his in the cold and cruel light.
But could anything else have happened, he asked himself hopelessly. He closed his eyes and saw
her again in the frail and haunting loveliness that had been hers in the flickering candlelight.
A long silence bridged the charm of speech. When she spoke it was almost as if her words were
so many pebbles flung into that chasm for themer purpose of sound, as full of hopeless regret
was her voice.
I suppose, I should . . .the words halted there.
It was many days later when he learned how she came to him that night of wind and rain. She
had been working in the house of a vaudeville star. She had been happy, she assured him,
because the seorita was kind. But the younger brother, coming home only that night, had been
nasty in his drunkenness. She had fled from the house, from evil eyes and evil lips and evil hands
that had seared her flesh with their touch. She had wandered through unfamiliar streets- from
the boat she had gone straight to the seoritas house, upon her arrival from the province only a
few months before- until the sudden rain had driven her to his door.

From mud to mud, he thought as he listened to her story and watched her trembling hands. A
sense of the enormous wrong he had done her troubled him, also an intangible responsibility and
a vague desire to atone.
He would marry her. He said that aloud, feeling he not only should but wanted to.
But we have to wait, he told her one evening across their frugal meal; marriage costs money.
The license . . . other fees. . .
The seorita . . . she ventured timidly.
I do not want you to go back to that house, he reminded her, and I shall pay for the
license,he added in cold voice.
She was silent.

The Woman
Barranco was horrified even the slums had a code of morals, however loose but not for long.
The poor people had too many other things and personal affairs to worry about for example,
how to feed seven children every day on twenty centavos.
In time the neighbors forgot, for they rarely saw her. It was the cobbler who went to the market;
it was the cobbler who hung the wet clothes in the backyard every morning. And something in
her voice, something gay and undaunted, made them stop their work for a while to listen to her
and to notice how lovely the day was.
For beautiful mornings came after that night of rain soft sunshine, blue skies, tender breezes
kind days during which she learned to love her tall cobbler who made barely enough money to
keep them both in rice and fish every day.
Often she would sit quietly on the papag and watch him as he sat on his stool mending a pair of
shoes that would bring them a days meal or standing by the door talking to a neighbor across
the narrow street while waiting for a customer to come in. And the night.
So they were not only lovely but happy days as well. Yet she counted them, for if work became
steady, they might save the money to marry on.
Somehow nothing had been said about marriage since the night he had forbidden her to go back
to the house of her former seorita. But how could he talk about it, she argued with herself
impatiently whenever the question furtively intruded into her thoughts, when there were times
when they did not have enough money for the market?
Once or twice she was tempted to go to the seorita without his knowledge, but she could not
think of a good excuse to leave the house for a long time. And she had learned his anger which
was swift and silent and somehow terrible. She had incurred it once by making a friend of the
wife of a neighbor and chatting for hours across the back fence for the sheer pleasure of hearing
another womans voice. He had not said anything but she had cried because he had eaten his
meal without her.
She was sweeping the shop one morning the cobbler had left to deliver a pair of shoes to its
owner when a small gray car made its way through the narrow street and a girl in a gaudy
sweater came down, staring with bewildered eyes at the small protection.
Seorita, she exclaimed joyfully as a shadow darkened the threshold.
Yes, the girl in the gaudy sweater hastened inside. What are you doing in this shop?

I live here, seorita, she said, dusting the only chair with a sleeve of her camisa and offering it
to the unexpected visitor.
I have come to take you back, crossing her silk-clad legs, because Pepe is now living with
Mother. He told me what happened the night you left. But the detective I hired took a long time
to locate you.
The voice of the seorita was very kind, so were the eyes, and before she realized what she was
doing, she had sobbed the whole story.
;But he is going to marry me, seorita, she smiled through her tears, as soon as we have
enough money with which to pay the license and other fees.
The girls face softened, became almost beautiful.
Well, here is the salary you forgot to ask for in your hurry to leave, opening a beaded handbag
and drawing out two ten-peso bills and a small card, and here is my new address, in case you
should change your mind.
But seorita. . .she stared at the bills in her hand.
The other bill is my gift to the bride, she said smiling. And now is there anything else I can do
for you?
Yes, there is, seorita, she clutched the girls arm in her excitement. Wait for him. And do not
tell him you have seen me. Say that you have heard about us from the detective you hired to
locate me, that you are giving him this gift of money so he can marry me.
But why? the girl was puzzled.
Because I love him, seorita, and I want him to think he is paying for the license, not I, she
explained as she snatched a scarf the same faded violet scarf with which she had come to her
cobbler out of the night and the rain and hurried out.
The small gray car no longer blocked the narrow street when she returned about an hour later.
Inside the shop the cobbler was regarding a dirty pair of black shoes perched on his low table
with evident dislike.
Where have you been? he asked casually as she came in.
Looking for isis with which to polish our table, she answered in a happy voice, waving a branch
of rough leaves before his eyes.
You should not leave the shop when I am out, he remarked thoughtfully. People might come
in, he added.
Did any? she challenged gayly. She stood before him expectantly, her eyes starry bright.
Well . . . no, he spoke slowly as he resumed the scrutiny of the black shoes.
A bit of the radiance left her eyes. Rather puzzled, she picked up the isis that had fallen to the
ground and went inside the kitchen to prepare the midday meal.
Throughout the rest of the morning she resolutely kept calm and refrained from thinking. She
would not let anything, not even curiosity, master her into unnecessary doubts, until he himself
should, consciously or unconsciously, give the clue to his rather strange behavior.
I have a surprise for you, he told her drowsily as he curled up for his usual afternoon nap.

The relief was so sudden and so sharp that it almost brought tears to her eyes. She did not speak
because she knew her voice would betray her.
He was keeping the news as a surprise. He would tell her about it tonight and she hoped there
would be rain to remind him of the night she had come to him. And in a rush of penitence for the
ugly and furtive thoughts that had troubled her in spite of herself, she ran her fingers through his
hair. He was fast asleep.
With renewed buoyancy, she moved about the shop the rest of the afternoon, excited, humming
a tune as she worked. She made fun of the dirty black shoes the cobbler began mending after his
brief nap. She laughed over the very long needle and the very thick thread he chose for his work.
But even the night brought nothing. Close to him in the dark she waited in vain for the words that
would make of their life together a beautiful symphony, not the sordid interlude it was
threatening to be.
Seen through the little window, the sky of night, so smooth, so bestarred, looked wrinkled
through her screen of unshed tears. Her thoughts released at last, kept her company through the
long night like so many shadow specters. And something she could only feel but not name
assumed definite proportions with the dawn.
The new day brought his surprise it was carefully wrapped in fine white paper, and he had it in
his pocket when he arrived home from the market. At first she did not want to unwrap the small
package. Truth hung by a hair and as long as it hung, she could swear it was a lie. When she
finally did, she was conscious of a sharp and indignant agony.
She did not ask questions about it. And she noticed that he was relieved as he was surprised by
her strange lack of curiosity.
It was a pretty although inexpensive little thing a square violet scarf of thin silk with a small
tassels all around. But she wore the old faded one when, three days later, she told him she had
found another job.
But why? he wanted to know. I am not earning much but . . .
We cannot go on like this, she spoke low to keep the bitterness out of her voice; it is not
You mean . . .
Yes. Let us both work and save money. Then perhaps . . .
She watched his face keenly. There was not even the flicker of an eyelash to betray him.
Where will you work this time? he asked after a long silence. She had only to show the card the
seorita had given her. But her knowledge of the whole torturing incident prevented her from
doing so.
Somewhere not very far from here, she told him lightly.
A gift was a gift, she reminded herself fiercely. She had given him that money through the
seorita without his asking for it, freely, to do with it as he liked. And he chose to let her go.
She left late the next afternoon. He wanted to go with her but she asked him not to, promising to
send him word and her address later.
The fish is under the basin, near the stove, she reminded him as he helped her into the
carretela that was waiting for her.

He gave her a bundle, the clothes of his dead mother which he had insisted on her taking with
her. His face was pale in the late afternoon light; his hands were none too steady.
She smiled compassionate divinity looking down on the puny sins of man.
She was still smiling as the horse started. At the end of the street she turned her head and
waved her hand to him as he stood by the gate in the falling darkness.

Desire by Paz Latorena

January 11, 2010
by Paz Latorena
She was homely. A very broad forehead gave her face an unpleasant, masculine look. Her eyes, which were small,
slanted at the corners and made many of her acquaintances wonder if perchance she had a few drops of celestial blood in
her veins. Her nose was broad and flat, and its nostrils were always dilated, as if breathing were an effort. Her mouth, with
thick lips, was a long, straight; gash across her face made angular by her unusually big jaws.
But nature, as if ashamed of her meanness in fashioning the face, moulded a body of unusual beauty. From her neck to
her small feet, she was perfect. Her bust was full, and her breast rose up like twin roses in full bloom. Her waist was slim
as a young girls her hips seemed to have stolen the curve of the crescent moon. Her arms were shapely ending in small
hands with fine tapering fingers that were the envy of her friends. Her legs with their trim ankles reminded one of those
lifeless things seen in shop windows displaying the latest silk stockings.
Hers was a body of a sculptor, athirst for glory, might have dreamt of and moulded in a feverish frenzy of creation, with
hand atremble with a vision of the fame in store for him. Hers was a body that might have been the delight and despair of
a painter whose feelings faltering brush tried in vain to depict on the canvass such a beautiful harmony of curves and
lines. Hers was a body a poet might have raved over and immortalized in musical, fanciful verses. Hers was a body men
would gladly have gone to hell for.
And they did. Men looked at her face and turned their eyes away; they looked at her body and were enslaved. They forget
the broad masculine forehead, the small eyes that slanted at the corners, the unpleasant mouth, the aggressive jaws. All
they had eyes for was that body, those hips that has stolen the curve of the crescent moon.
But she hated her body hated that gift which Nature, in a fit of remorse for the wrong done to her face, had given her.
She hated her body because it made men look at her with an unbeautiful light in their eyes married eyes, single eyes.
She wanted love, was starved for it. But she did not want that love that her body inspired in men. She wanted something
purer, cleaner.
She was disgusted. And hurt. For men told other women that they loved them looking deep into their eyes to the soul
beneath their voices low and soft, their hands quivering with the weight of their tenderness. But men told her that they
loved her body with eyes that made her feel as if she were naked, stripped bare of their simple eyes to gaze upon. They
told her that with voices made thick with desire, touched her with hand afire, that scared her flesh, filling her with scorn
and loathing.
She wanted to be loved as other women were loved. She was as good as pure as they. And some of them were as
homely as she was. But they did not have beautiful bodies. And so they were loved for themselves.
Deliberately she set out to hide from the eyes of men the beautiful body that to her was a curse rather than a blessing.
She started wearing long, wide dresses that completely disfigured her. She gave up wearing the Filipino costume which
outlined her body with startling accuracy.
It took quite a time to make men forget that body that had once been their delight. But after a time they became
accustomed to the disfiguring dresses and concluded she had become fate and shapeless. She accomplished the desired
And more.. For there came a time when men look at her and turned their eyes away, not with the unbeautiful light of

former days but with something akin to pity mirrored there pity for a homely face and a shapeless mass of flesh.
At first she was glad. Glad that she had succeeded in extinguishing that unbeautiful light in the eyes of men when they
looked at her.
After some time, she became rebellious. For she was a woman and she wanted to be loved and to love. But it seemed
that men would not have anything to do with a woman with a homely face and an apparently shapeless mass of flesh.
But she became reconciled to her fate. And rather than bring back that unbeautiful light in mens eyes, she chose to go
with the farce.
She turned to writing to while away the long nights spent brooding all alone.
Little things. Little lyrics. Little sketches. Sometimes they were the heart throbs of a woman who wanted love and sweet
things whispered to her in the dark.. Sometimes, they were the ironies of one who sees all the weaknesses and stupidities
of men and the world through eye made bitter by loneliness.
She sent them to papers which found the little things acceptable and published them, To fill space, she told herself. But
she continued to write because it made her forget once in a while how drab her life was.
And then came into her life a man with white blood in his veins. He was one of those who believed in the inferiority of
colored races. But he found something unusual in the light, ironic tirades from the pen of the unknown writer. Not in the
little lyrics. No, he thought that those were superfluous effusions of a woman belonging to a race of people who could not
think of writing about anything except love. But he liked the light airy sketches. They were like those of the people of his
One day, when he had nothing to do, he sent her, to encourage her, a note of appreciation. It was brief, but the first glance
showed her that it came from cultured man.
She answered it, a light, nonsensical answer that touched the sense of humor of the white man. That started a
correspondence. In the course of time, she came to watch for the mail carrier for the gray tinted stationery that was his.
He asked to see her to know her personally. Letters were so tantalizing. Her first impulse was to say no. A bitter smile
hovered about her lips as she surveyed her face before the mirror. He would be disappointed, she told herself.
But she consented. They would have to meet sooner or later. The first meeting would surely be trial and the sooner it was
over, the better.
He, the white man, coming from a land of fair, blue-eyed women, was shocked. Perhaps, he found it a bit difficult to
associate this homely woman with one who could write such delightful sketches, such delightful letters.
But she could talk rather well. There was a light vein of humor, faintly ironical at times, in everything she said. And that
delighted him.
He asked her to come out with him again. By the shore of Manila Bay one early evening, when her homely face was
softened by the darkness around them, he forgot that he was a white man, that she was a brown maiden a homely and
to all appearances, shapeless creature at that. Her silence, as with half closed eyes she gazed at the distance, was very
soothing and under the spell of her understanding sympathy, he found himself telling her of his home way over the seas,
how he loved the blue of the sea on early morning because it reminded of the blue of the eyes of the women of his native
land. He told her of his love of the sea, for the waves that dashed against the rocks in impotent fury, how he could spend
his life on the water, sailing on and on, to unknown and uncharted seas.

She listened to him silently. Then he woke up from the spell and, as if ashamed of the outburst of confidence, added
But you are different from the other women of your race, looking deep into her small eyes that slanted at the corners.
She smiled. Of course she was, the homely and shapeless mass of flesh that he saw her to be.
No, I do not mean that, he protested, divining her thoughts, you do not seem to care much for convention. No Filipino girl
would go out unchaperoned with a man, a white mad at that.
A homely woman can very well afford to break conventions. Nobody minds her if she does. That is one consolation of
being homely, was her calmly reply.
He laughed.
You have some very queer ideas, he observed.
I should have, she retorted. If I didnt nobody would notice me with my face and my my figure, she hated herself for
stammering the last words.
He looked at her impersonally, as if trying to find some beauty in her.
But I like you, was his verdict, uttered with the almost brutal frankness in his race. I have not come across a more
interesting girl for a long time.
They met, again. And again. Thoughts, pleasant thoughts, began to fill her mind. Had she at last found one who liked her
sincerely? For he liked her, that she was ready to believe. As a friend, a pal who understood him. And the though gave her
happiness a friend, a pal who understood him such as she had never experienced before.
One day, an idea took hold of her simply obsesses her. He was such a lover of beautiful things of beauty in any form.
She noticed that in all his conversations, in very look, every gesture of his. A desire to show him that she was not entirely
devoid of beauty which he worshipped came over her.
It would not do any harm, she told herself. He had learned to like her for herself. He had leaned to value their friendship,
homely as she was shapeless as he thought her to be. Her body would matter not at all now. It would please the aesthete
in him perhaps, but it certainly would not matter much to the man.
From the bottom of a very old truck, she unearthed one of those flimsy, shapedly things tha had lain there unused for
many years. As she looked at herself in the mirror before the appointment, she grudgingly admitted that her body had lost
nothing of its hated beauty.
He was surprised. Pleasantly so.
Accustomed as he was to the beautiful bodies of the women of his race, he had to confess that there was something of
unusual beauty.
Why have you been hiding such a beautiful figure all this time, he demanded in mock anger.
I did not know it was beautiful, she lied.
Pouff! I know it is not polite to tell a young lady she is a liar so I wont do it. But but

But fear was beginning to creep into her voice.

Well Let us talk of something else.
She heaved in a deep sigh. She was right. She had found a man to whom her body mattered little if anything at all. She
need not take warning. He had learned to like her for herself.
At their next meeting she wore a pale rose Filipino dress that softened the brown of her skin. His eyes lighted up when
they rested on her, but whether it was the unbeautiful light that she dreaded so much, she could not determine for it
quickly disappeared. No, it could not be the unbeautiful light. He liked her for herself. This belief she treasured fondly.
They had a nice long ride out in the country, where the winds were soft and faintly scented and the bamboo tress sighed
love to the breeze. They visited a little our of the way nipa chapel by the roadside where a naked Man, nailed to the Cross,
looked at them with eyes which held all the tragedy and sorrow of the world for the sins of sinning men.
She gazed at the figure feeling something vague and incomprehensible stirring within her. She turned to him for sympathy
and found him staring at her at her body.
He turned slightly red. In silence they left the little chapel. He helped her inside the car but did not start it at once.
I I love he stammered after some moment, as if impelled by an irresistible force. Then he stopped.
The small eyes that slanted at the corners were almost beautiful with a tender, soft light as she turned them on hi. So he
loved her. Had he learned not only to like her but to love her? For herself. And the half finished confession found an echo
in the heart of the woman who was starved for love.
Yes there was a pleading note in her voice.
He swallowed hard. I love. Your body. He finished with a thick voice: And the blue eyes flared with the dreaded, hateful
She uttered an involuntary cry of protest, of pain of disillusion. And then a sob escaped her.
And dimly the man from the West realized that he had wronged this little brown maiden with a homely face and the
beautiful body as she never had been wronged before. And he felt sorry, infinitely so.
When they stopped before the door of her house, he got out to open the door for her.
I am sorry, was all he said.
There was a world of regret in the eyes she turned on him.
For what? she asked in a tired voice. You have just been yourself like other men. He winced.
And with a weary smile she passed within.