All over the World – by Vicente Rivera
I came out of a late movie to a silent, cold night. I shivered a little as I stood for a moment in the narrow street, looking up at the distant sky, alive with stars. I stood there, letting the night wind seep through me, and listening. The street was empty, the houses on the street dim—with the kind of ghostly dimness that seems to embrace sleeping houses. I had always liked empty streets in the night; I had always stopped for a while in these streets listening for something I did not quite know what.
Perhaps for low, soft cries that empty streets and sleeping houses seem to share in the night. I lived in an old, nearly crumbling apartment house just across the street from the moviehouse. From the street, I could see into the open courtyard, around which rooms for the tenants, mostly a whole family to a single room, were ranged. My room, like all the other rooms on the groundfloor, opened on this court. Three other boys, my cousins, shared the room with me. As I turned into the courtyard from the street, I noticed that the light over our study-table, which stood on the corridor outside our room, was still burning.
Earlier in the evening after supper, I had taken out my books to study, but I went to a movie instead. I must have forgotten to turn off the light; apparently, the boys had forgotten, too. I went around the low screen that partitioned off our “study” and there was a girl reading at the table. We looked at each other, startled. I had never seen her before. She was about eleven years old, and she wore a faded blue dress. She had long, straight hair falling to her shoulders. She was reading my copy of Greek Myths. The eyes she had turned to me were wide, darkened a little by apprehension. For a long time neither of us said anything.
She was a delicately pretty girl with a fine, smooth. pale olive skin that shone richly in the yellow light. Her nose was straight, small and finely molded. Her lips, full and red, were fixed and tense. And there was something else about her. Something lonely? something lost? “I know,” I said, “I like stories, too. I read anything good I find lying around. Have you been reading long? ” “Yes,” she said. not looking at me now. She got up slowly, closing the book. “I’m sorry. ” “Don’t you want to read anymore? I asked her, trying to smile, trying to make her feel that everything was all right. “No. ” she said, “thank you. ” Oh, yes,” I said, picking up the book. “It’s late. You ought to be in bed. But, you can take this along. ” She hesitated, hanging back, then shyly she took the book, brought it to her side.
She looked down at her feet uncertain as to where to turn. “You live here? ” I asked her. “Yes. ” “What room? ” She turned her face and nodded towards the far corner, across the courtyard, to a little room near the communal kitchen. It was the room occupied by the janitor: a small square room with no windows except for a transom above the door. “You live with Mang Lucio? ” “He’s my uncle. ” “How long have you been here? I haven’t seen you before, have I? “I’ve always been here. I’ve seen you. ” “Oh. Well, good night—your name? ” “Maria. ” “Good night, Maria. ” She turned quickly, ran across the courtyard, straight to her room, and closed the door without looking back. I undressed, turned off the light and lay in bed dreaming of far-away things. I was twenty-one and had a job for the first time. The salary was not much and I lived in a house that was slowly coming apart, but life seemed good. And in the evening when the noise of living had died down and you lay safe in bed, you could dream of better times, look back and ahead, and find that life could be gentle—even with the hardness.
And afterwards, when the night had grown colder, and suddenly you felt alone in the world, adrift, caught in a current of mystery that came in the hour between sleep and waking, the vaguely frightening loneliness only brought you closer to everything, to the walls and the shadows on the walls, to the other sleeping people in the room, to everything within and beyond this house, this street, this city, everywhere. I met Maria again one early evening, a week later, as I was coming home from the office. I saw her walking ahead of me, slowly, as if she could not be too careful, and with a kind of grownup poise that was somehow touching.
But I did not know it was Maria until she stopped and I overtook her. She was wearing a white dress that had been old many months ago. She wore a pair of brown sneakers that had been white once. She had stopped to look at the posters of pictures advertised as “Coming” to our neighborhood theater. “Hello,” I said, trying to sound casual. She smiled at me and looked away quickly. She did not say anything nor did she step away. I felt her shyness, but there was no self-consciousness, none of the tenseness and restraint of the night we first met.
I stood beside her, looked at the pictures tacked to a tilted board, and tried whistling a tune. She turned to go, hesitated, and looked at me full in the eyes. There was again that wide-eyed—and sad? —stare. I smiled, feeling a remote desire to comfort her, as if it would do any good, as if it was comfort she needed. “I’ll return your book now,” she said. “You’ve finished it? ” “Yes. ” We walked down the shadowed street. Magallanes Street in Intramuros, like all the other streets there, was not wide enough, hemmed in by old, mostly unpainted houses, clumsy and unlovely, even in the darkening light of the fading day.
We went into the apartment house and I followed her across the court. I stood outside the door which she closed carefully after her. She came out almost immediately and put in my hands the book of Greek myths. She did not look at me as she stood straight and remote. “My name is Felix,” I said. She smiled suddenly. It was a little smile, almost an unfinished smile. But, somehow, it felt special, something given from way deep inside in sincere friendship. I walked away whistling. At the door of my room, I stopped and looked back. Maria was not in sight. Her door was firmly closed.
August, 1941, was a warm month. The hangover of summer still permeated the air, specially in Intramuros. But, like some of the days of late summer, there were afternoons when the weather was soft and clear, the sky a watery green, with a shell-like quality to it that almost made you see through and beyond, so that, watching it made you lightheaded. I walked out of the office one day into just such an afternoon. The day had been full of grinding work—like all the other days past. I was tired. I walked slowly, towards the far side of the old city, where traffic was not heavy.