Cadence: Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s “The Painting”

With any luck, self will finally get to the last story of The Best Philippine Short Stories of the Twentieth Century, edited by Isagani Cruz, which she began reading — oh, let’s see — about a decade ago.

The story self is reading at the moment is a marvel of unreliable narration.  The fact that the narrator is a young priest (from an illustrious family — even better!) makes the story feel very “slippery.”

The story begins with the priest telling the story of his family’s connection to the national hero (and there is only one, so if you are Filipino then you know who that hero is).

We proceed to the sacred mountain, and to the cult that venerates Jose Rizal as a minor deity.  And to the native priestesses — call them babaylan, if you wish.

I wonder if any of you have ever seen these priestesses.  They are impressive individuals.  All have a commanding presence, and some are strikingly beautiful.  This one was very tall and very fair, with strongly chiseled features in an ageless face; large, penetrating eyes, and long hair drawn back in a bun.  She had changed from her vestments into a loose white robe and was sitting in one of the wooden benches to one side of the chapel, where she always received people who wished to consult with her.

The Suprema was speaking with someone whose appearance was a striking contrast to hers — a woman in her late forties or early fifties, perhaps, of medium height, plain-looking, and a little on the stout side, her hair cut short, as though she did not wish to be bothered with it.  She wore thick glasses and a simple dress of some unfashionable color — I believe it was purple.  One of her shoes had fallen off, and she was swinging a bare foot to and fro as she talked.  They appeared to be having a good time, for their conversation was punctuated by laughter.

Dear blog readers, self can hardly wait to see where this story is going!

Stay tuned.

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