“At a certain time of day, between the high heat of noon and the cool afternoon, the streets of Casay have a strange quietness — of a leaf arrested in its fall, or of a vacuum from which air and life have suddenly been drained — a quietness which seems to bide its time. Very infrequently, a car, a truck, or a cart may disturb the stillness, raising brown dust in its trail and sowing screeching echoes into the silence. But a minute after, the dust settles, the noise fades away, and it is quiet again. Even when the wind blows and rustles leaves, sways branches, scatters blossoms, it is still quiet.
It stays so til the hour when the fading sun gives way to lengthening shadows and the church bells ring the hour of the Angelus, the coming of the day’s second dawn. Then slowly, the streets come to life. Cockfighters gather at corners, stroking their roosters, while wives and chickens cackle in coops and kitchens. An hour later, the silent street has vanished, the rustle of leaves drowned by the noise of people.” — from the story “With Fervor Burning,” in the book Emma, 1998, by Nita Umali Berthelsen.
few people know that Nita Umali-Berthelsen was my Lola, the sister of my Lola Nena (mama’s mother), and how she was the first woman writer of the family, who won a Free Press Award for her short story The Money Makers in 1948, and who wrote in English and Filipino, in women’s magazines and a column in Taliba in the late 40s and early 50s.
my memories of Lola Nita are always about conversations. she was coming home (from Denmark) more and more often in the mid-90s, when i was a lit major in UP, and in the early 2000s, when I was part-time teaching in Ateneo. and in family reunions and gatherings, she’d always ask me how i was, what was going on in the literary world and academe. always those conversations would end with talk of rebellion.
be a rebel. break the rules, the ones who make them are just people, too, Lola Nita would say.
i never got to tell her what exactly i’ve found myself doing the past five years, writing like a crazy woman (haha!), and yes, breaking the rules every chance i get, and walking away when i’m told i can’t do that. that’s a torch in itself isn’t it?
happy trails Lola Nita! thank you for that wondrous light!
Tagged: Nita Umali Berthelsen