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THE VIRGIN by Kerima Polotan Tuvera

He went to where Miss Mijares sat, a tall, big man, walking with an economy of movement, graceful and
light, a man who knew his body and used it well. He sat in the low chair worn decrepit by countless
other interviewers and laid all ten fingerprints carefully on the edge of her desk. She pushed a sheet
towards him, rolling a pencil along with it. While he read the question and wrote down his answers, she
glanced at her watch and saw that it was ten. "I shall be coming back quickly," she said, speaking
distinctly in the dialect (you were never sure about these people on their first visit, if they could speak
English, or even write at all, the poor were always proud and to use the dialect with them was an act of
charity), "you will wait for me."

As she walked to the cafeteria, Miss Mijares thought how she could easily have said, Please wait for me,
or will you wait for me? But years of working for the placement section had dulled the edges of her
instinct for courtesy. She spoke now peremtorily, with an abruptness she knew annoyed the people
about her.

When she talked with the jobless across her desk, asking them the damning questions that completed
their humiliation, watching pale tongues run over dry lips, dirt crusted handkerchiefs flutter in trembling
hands, she was filled with an impatience she could not understand. Sign here, she had said thousands of
times, pushing the familiar form across, her finger held to a line, feeling the impatience grow at sight of
the man or woman tracing a wavering "X" or laying the impress of a thumb. Invariably, Miss Mijares
would turn away to touch the delicate edge of the handkerchief she wore on her breast.

Where she sat alone at one of the cafeteria tables, Miss Mijares did not look 34. She was slight, almost
bony, but she had learned early how to dress herself to achieve an illusion of hips and bosom. She liked
poufs and shirrings and little girlish pastel colors. On her bodice, astride or lengthwise, there sat an
inevitable row of thick camouflaging ruffles that made her look almost as though she had a bosom, if she
bent her shoulders slightly and inconspicuously drew her neckline open to puff some air into her bodice.

Her brow was smooth and clear and she was always pushing off it the hair she kept in tight curls at
night. She had thin cheeks, small and angular, falling down to what would have been a nondescript,
receding chin, but Nature's hand had erred and given her a jaw instead. When displeased, she had a
lippy, almost sensual pout, surprising on such a small face.

So while not exactly an ugly woman, she was no beauty. She teetered precariously on the border line to
which belonged countless others who you found, if they were not working at some job, in the kitchen of
some married sister's house shushing a brood of devilish little nephews.
And yet Miss Mijares did think of love. Secret, short-lived thoughts flitted through her mind in the
jeepneys she took to work when a man pressed down beside her and through her dress she felt the
curve of his thigh; when she held a baby in her arms, a married friend's baby or a relative's, holding in
her hands the tiny, pulsing body, what thoughts did she not think, her eyes straying against her will to
the bedroom door and then to her friend's laughing, talking face, to think: how did it look now, spread
upon a pillow, unmasked of the little wayward coquetries, how went the lines about the mouth and
beneath the eyes: (did they close? did they open?) in the one final, fatal coquetry of all? to finally,
miserably bury her face in the baby's hair. And in the movies, to sink into a seat as into an embrace, in
the darkness with a hundred shadowy figures about her and high on the screen, a man kissing a
woman's mouth while her own fingers stole unconsciously to her unbruised lips.

When she was younger, there had been other things to do--- college to finish, a niece to put through
school, a mother to care for.

She had gone through all these with singular patience, for it had seemed to her that love stood behind
her, biding her time, a quiet hand upon her shoulder (I wait. Do not despair) so that if she wished she
had but to turn from her mother's bed to see the man and all her timid, pure dreams would burst into
glory. But it had taken her parent many years to die. Towards the end, it had become a thankless chore,
kneading her mother's loose flesh, hour after hour, struggling to awaken the cold, sluggish blood in her
drying body. In the end, she had died --- her toothless, thin-haired, flabby-fleshed mother --- and Miss
Mijares had pushed against the bed in grief and also in gratitude. But neither love nor glory stood
behind her, only the empty shadows, and nine years gone, nine years. In the room for her unburied
dead, she had held up her hands to the light, noting the thick, durable fingers, thinking in a mixture of
shame and bitterness and guilt that they had never touched a man.

When she returned to the bleak replacement office, the man stood by a window, his back to her, half-
bending over something he held in his hands. "Here," she said, approaching, "have you signed this?"

"Yes," he replied, facing her.

In his hands, he held her paperweight, an old gift from long ago, a heavy wooden block on which stood,
as though poised for flight, an undistinguished, badly done bird. It had come apart recently. The screws
beneath the block had loosened so that lately it had stood upon her desk with one wing tilted unevenly,
a miniature eagle or swallow? felled by time before it could spread its wings. She had laughed and
laughed that day it had fallen on her desk, plop! "What happened? What happened?" they had asked
her, beginning to laugh, and she had said, caught between amusement and sharp despair, "Some one
shot it," and she had laughed and laughed till faces turned and eyebrows rose and she told herself,
whoa, get a hold, a hold, a hold!
He had turned it and with a penknife tightened the screws and dusted it. In this man's hands, cupped
like that, it looked suddenly like a dove.

She took it away from him and put it down on her table. Then she picked up his paper and read it.

He was a high school graduate. He was also a carpenter.

He was not starved, like the rest. His clothes, though old, were pressed and she could see the cuffs of his
shirt buttoned and wrapped about big, strong wrists.

"I heard about this place," he said, "from a friend you got a job at the pier." Seated, he towered over
her, "I'm not starving yet," he said with a quick smile. "I still got some money from that last job, but my
team broke up after that and you got too many jobs if you're working alone. You know carpentering," he
continued, "you can't finish a job quickly enough if you got to do the planing and sawing and nailing all
by your lone self. You got to be on a team."

Perhaps he was not meaning to be impolite? But for a jobseeker, Miss Mijares thought, he talked too
much and without call. He was bursting all over with an obtruding insolence that at once disarmed and
annoyed her.

So then she drew a slip and wrote his name on it. "Since you are not starving yet," she said, speaking in
English now, wanting to put him in his place, "you will not mind working in our woodcraft section, three
times a week at two-fifty to four a day, depending on your skill and the foreman's discretion, for two or
three months after which there might be a call from outside we may hold for you."

"Thank you," he said.

He came on the odd days, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday.

She was often down at the shanty that housed their bureau's woodcraft, talking with Ato, his foreman,
going over with him the list of old hands due for release. They hired their men on a rotation basis and
three months was the longest one could stay.
"The new one there, hey," Ato said once. "We're breaking him in proper." And he looked across several
shirted backs to where he stopped, planing what was to become the side of a bookcase.

How much was he going to get? Miss Mijares asked Ato on Wednesday. "Three," the old man said,
chewing away on a cud. She looked at the list in her hands, quickly running a pencil down. "But he's
filling a four-peso vacancy," she said. "Come now," surprised that she should wheedle so, "give him the
extra peso." "Only a half," the stubborn foreman shook his head, "three-fifty."

"Ato says I have you to thank," he said, stopping Miss Mijares along a pathway in the compound.

It was noon, that unhappy hour of the day when she was oldest, tiredest, when it seemed the sun put
forth cruel fingers to search out the signs of age on her thin, pinched face. The crow's feet showed
unmistakably beneath her eyes and she smiled widely to cover them up and aquinting a little, said,
"Only a half-peso --- Ato would have given it to you eventually."

"Yes, but you spoke for me," he said, his big body heaving before her. "Thank you, though I don't need it
as badly as the rest, for to look at me, you would knew I have no wife --- yet."

She looked at him sharply, feeling the malice in his voice. "I'd do it for any one," she said and turned
away, angry and also ashamed, as though he had found out suddenly that the ruffles on her dress rested
on a flat chest.

The following week, something happened to her: she lost her way home.

Miss Mijares was quite sure she had boarded the right jeepneys but the driver, hoping to beat traffic,
had detoured down a side alley, and then seeing he was low on gas, he took still another shortcut to a
filling station. After that, he rode through alien country.

The houses were low and dark, the people shadowy, and even the driver, who earlier had been an
amiable, talkative fellow, now loomed like a sinister stranger over the wheel. Through it all, she sat
tightly, feeling oddly that she had dreamed of this, that some night not very long ago, she had taken a
ride in her sleep and lost her way. Again and again, in that dream, she had changed direction, losing her
way each time, for something huge and bewildering stood blocking the old, familiar road home.

But that evening, she was lost only for a while. The driver stopped at a corner that looked like a little
known part of the boulevard she passed each day and she alighted and stood on a street island, the
passing headlights playing on her, a tired, shaken woman, the ruffles on her skirt crumpled, the hemline
of her skirt awry.

The new hand was absent for a week. Miss Mijares waited on that Tuesday he first failed to report for
some word from him sent to Ato and then to her. That was regulation. Briefly though they were held,
the bureau jobs were not ones to take chances with. When a man was absent and he sent no word, it
upset the system. In the absence of a definite notice, someone else who needed a job badly was kept
away from it.

"I went to the province, ma'am," he said, on his return.

"You could have sent someone to tell us," she said.

"It was an emergency, ma'am," he said. "My son died."

"How so?"

A slow bitter anger began to form inside her. "But you said you were not married!"

"No, ma'am," he said gesturing.

"Are you married?" she asked loudly.

"No, ma'am."

"But you have -- you had a son!" she said.

"I am not married to his mother," he said, grinning stupidly, and for the first time she noticed his two
front teeth were set widely apart. A flush had climbed to his face, suffusing it, and two large throbbing
veins crawled along his temples.

She looked away, sick all at once.

"You should told us everything," she said and she put forth hands to restrain her anger but it slipped
away she stood shaking despite herself.

"I did not think," he said.

"Your lives are our business here," she shouted.

It rained that afternoon in one of the city's fierce, unexpected thunder-storms. Without warning, it
seemed to shine outside Miss Mijares' window a gray, unhappy look.

It was past six when Miss Mijares, ventured outside the office. Night had come swiftly and from the dark
sky the thick, black, rainy curtain continued to fall. She stood on the curb, telling herself she must not
lose her way tonight. When she flagged a jeepney and got in, somebody jumped in after her. She looked
up into the carpenter's faintly smiling eyes. She nodded her head once in recognition and then turned

The cold tight fear of the old dream was upon her. Before she had time to think, the driver had swerved
his vehicle and swung into a side street. Perhaps it was a different alley this time. But it wound itself in
the same tortuous manner as before, now by the banks of overflowing esteros, again behind faintly
familiar buildings. She bent her tiny, distraught face, conjuring in her heart the lonely safety of the street
island she had stood on for an hour that night of her confusion.

"Only this far, folks," the driver spoke, stopping his vehicle. "Main street's a block straight ahead."

"But it's raining," someone protested.

"Sorry. But if I got into a traffic, I won't come out of it in a year. Sorry."
One by one the passengers got off, walking swiftly, disappearing in the night.

Miss Mijares stepped down to a sidewalk in front of a boarded store. The wind had begun again and she
could hear it whipping in the eaves above her head. "Ma'am," the man's voice sounded at her shoulders,
"I am sorry if you thought I lied."

She gestured, bestowing pardon.

Up and down the empty, rain-beaten street she looked. It was as though all at once everyone else had
died and they were alone in the world, in the dark.

In her secret heart, Miss Mijares' young dreams fluttered faintly to life, seeming monstrous in the rain,
near this man --- seeming monstrous but sweet overwhelming. I must get away, she thought wildly, but
he had moved and brushed against her, and where his touch had fallen, her flesh leaped, and she
recalled how his hands had looked that first day, lain tenderly on the edge of her desk and about the
wooden bird (that had looked like a moving, shining dove) and she turned to him with her ruffles wet
and wilted, in the dark she turned to him.
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Tinang stopped before the Señora’s gate and adjusted the baby’s cap. The dogs that came to bark at
the gate were strange dogs, big-mouthed animals with a sense of superiority. They stuck their heads
through the hogfence, lolling their tongues and straining. Suddenly, from the gumamela row, a little
black mongrel emerged and slithered through the fence with ease. It came to her, head down and body
“Bantay. Ay, Bantay!” she exclaimed as the little dog laid its paws upon her shirt to sniff the baby on
her arm. The baby was afraid and cried. The big animals barked with displeasure.
Tito, the young master, had seen her and was calling to his mother. “Ma, it’s Tinang. Ma, Ma, it’s Tinang.”
He came running down to open the gate.

“Aba, you are so tall now, Tito.”

He smiled his girl’s smile as he stood by, warding the dogs off. Tinang passed quickly up the veranda
stairs lined with ferns and many-colored bougainville. On landing, she paused to wipe her shoes
carefully. About her, the Señora’s white and lavender butterfly orchids fluttered delicately in the
sunshine. She noticed though that the purple waling-waling that had once been her task to shade from
the hot sun with banana leaves and to water with mixture of charcoal and eggs and water was not in
“Is no one covering the waling-waling now?” Tinang asked. “It will die.”
“Oh, the maid will come to cover the orchids later.”

The Señora called from inside. “Tinang, let me see 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

Tinang laughed and felt warmness for her former mistress and the boy Tito. She sat self-consciously on
the black narra sofa, for the first time a visitor. Her eyes clouded. The sight of the Señora’s flaccidly
plump figure, swathed in a loose waist-less housedress that came down to her ankles, and the faint
scent of agua de colonia blended with kitchen spice, seemed to her the essence of the comfortable
world, 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 Señora asked, pitying Tinang because her dress
gave way at the placket and pressed at her swollen breasts. It was, as a matter of fact, a dress she had
given Tinang a long time ago.
“It is hard, Señora, very hard. Better that I were working here again.”

“There!” the Señora said. “Didn’t I tell you what it would be like, huh? . . . that you would be a slave to
your husband and that you would work a baby eternally strapped to you. Are you not pregnant again?”

Tinang squirmed at the Señora’s directness but admitted she was.

“Hala! You will have a dozen before long.” The Señora got up. “Come, I will give you some dresses and
an old blanket that you can cut into things for the baby.”
They went into a cluttered room which looked like a huge closet and as the Señora sorted out some
clothes, Tinang asked, “How is Señor?”
“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 . . . .”

“I don’t know,” Tinang said. The baby began to cry. Tinang shushed him with irritation.

“Oy, Tinang, come to the kitchen; your Bagobito is hungry.”

For the next hour, Tinang sat in the kitchen with an odd feeling; she watched the girl who was now in
possession of the kitchen work around with a handkerchief clutched I one hand. She had lipstick on too,
Tinang noted. the girl looked at her briefly but did not smile. She set down a can of evaporated milk for
the baby and served her coffee and cake. The Señora drank coffee with her and lectured about keeping
the baby’s stomach bound and training it to stay by itself so she could work. Finally, Tinang brought up,
haltingly, with phrases like “if it will not offend you” and “if you are not too busy” the purpose of her
visit–which was to ask Señora to be a madrina in baptism. The Señora readily assented and said she
would provide the baptismal clothes and the fee for the priest. It was time to go.
“When are you coming again, Tinang?” the Señore asked as Tinang got the baby ready. “Don’t forget
the bundle of clothes and . . . oh, Tinang, you better stop by the drugstore. They asked me once whether
you were still with us. You have a letter there and I was going to open it to see if there was bad news
but I thought you would be coming.”

A letter! Tinang’s heart beat violently. Somebody is dead; I know somebody is dead, she thought. She
crossed herself and after thanking the Señora profusely, she hurried down. The dogs came forward and
Tito had to restrain them. “Bring me some young corn next time, Tinang,” he called after her.

Tinang waited a while at the drugstore which was also the post office of the barrio. Finally, the man
turned to her: “Mrs., do you want medicine for your baby or for yourself?”

“No, I came for my letter. I was told I have a letter.”

“And what is your name, Mrs.?” He drawled.

“Constantina Tirol.”

The man pulled a box and slowly went through the pile of envelopes most of which were scribbled in
pencil, “Tirol, Tirol, Tirol. . . .” He finally pulled out a letter and handed it to her. She stared at the
unfamiliar scrawl. It was not from her sister and she could think of no one else who could write to her.

Santa Maria, she thought; maybe something has happened to my sister.

“Do you want me to read it for you?”

“No, no.” She hurried from the drugstore, crushed that he should think her illiterate. With the baby on
one arm and the bundle of clothes on the other and the letter clutched in her hand she found herself
walking toward home.

The rains had made a deep slough of the clay road and Tinang followed the prints left by the men and
the carabaos that had gone before her to keep from sinking 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 to 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. Someday 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 is why 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 hours, so I close with best wishes to you, my friends
Gonding, Sefarin, Bondio, etc.
Yours forever,
P.S. My mother died last month.
Address your letter:
Mr. Amado Galauran
Binalunan, Cotabato
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. . . . I imagine your personal appearance coming forward.
. . . Someday, somehow I’ll be there to fulfill our promise. . . .” Tinang was intoxicated. She pressed
herself against the kamansi tree.
My lover is true to me. He never meant to desert me. Amado, she thought. Amado.

And she cried, remembering the young girl she was less than two years ago when she would take food
to Señor in the field and the laborers would eye her furtively. She thought herself above them for she
was always neat and clean in her hometown, before she went away to work, she had gone to school
and had reached 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 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 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 groves 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 were 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 cries lustily. Ave Maria
Santisima. Do not punish me, she prayed, searching the baby’s skin for marks. Among the cornhusks,
the letter fell unnoticed.