Lunacy by Leoncio P. Deriada

(I had also been given permission by Leoncio Deriada to make available online the following story of his, which appeared in his first collection of short stories The Road to Mawab and Other Stories. Together with “For Death is Dead in December,” I encoded “Lunacy” for my undergraduate thesis. Like the former story, this one has also received generally negative critical feedback for its stylistics, and like with the former story I continue to maintain my disagreement with these critical opinions. “Lunacy,” like much of Deriada’s fiction, is autobiographical. I was fortunate enough to meet the real Rolly, Rolando Bajo, just recently)

 

Lunacy

by Leoncio Deriada

 

Suddenly he was awake. But the sound of the sea still echoed and he saw that the moonlight was in the room.  It filtered through the pomelo tree in the window.

The dream. He was on the beach throwing pebbles at the moon. He hit it, and like fireworks, its face burst into rainbow flames. The peacock splinters filled the heavens. he poised his hands to catch the drops of blue and red and green, but they all fell into the sea in sizzling magnificence. He watched the pageant in a mixture of fear and admiration, till there was no more of the moon but the moan of the tide… the darkness screamed. He was lost, afraid.

He woke up and saved himself from that chaos.

He felt his face and his mouth with his trembling hands. He was not dead. It was great to be alive somehow, to rediscover that he was one of the inhabitants of this room of hanging shirts, unplanned lesson plans, and the smell of tempera.

Alex’s tempera of trees and hills were carelessly thumb-tacked above Dardo’s cot. The moonbeams did not hit the paintings but they concentrated on Dardo’s prosaic figure, zebra like in his pajamas. Inside his mosquito net, he must be dreaming of the preserved animals in his biology room.

Alex hated biology back in college and so he ended up teaching grammar and economics. Economics! There was nothing to dream about the law of diminishing returns; he would rather dream of prehistoric flora and fauna. But there must be color and movement in all: tangerine toads jumping on ponds of blue bordered by dragon-green thalophytes and bryophytes, while in the background, Van Gogh inspired paramecia danced a bayanihan of mammoth slippers all fiery in Martian red.

Alex’s hand dangled out of the mosquito net (ah, Durer’s hand of the artist!), limp and graceful in a ballet of its own. The wall above him was a wilderness of canvases  – cardboard, cartolina, Manila paper, formal theme notebook sheets – enough to shame any thin bloodied impressionist.

Three men in the room. They would have been four, but Rolly’s girl got him in mid-August before the poor boy could find a boardinghouse for honeymooners. So right now, in the other room, Rolly and Tina dreamed married people’s dreams. Children perhaps. Or a house of their own.

The dreamer of the moon got up. His cot creaked. He had slept with all his day clothes on. The mosquito net was not hung; the tiny suckers must have feasted on his moon-maddened blood. It did not matter anyway. Nobody thought of malaria in the moonlight.

For now his blood was thick, surging, boiling. The full moon had stirred a high tide in him, a passion or a curse more intense than a vampire’s. There was a hunger in him, a thirst for something he did not know yet was there reflected on the leaves the moment the moon painted the town white with silence.

And this silence roared with the strength of an ocean against a coral beach.

The beach was far away (90 kilometers) and long ago (five years), when he was still a college junior tired of class meetings, lectures, and the school paper that printed his sobbing poems. During those days a vacation or a sound sleep was as precious as diamonds. And when the summer vacation came, the diamonds were found on the beach.

Moonlight on the beach in mid-May never became part of the lost summers. It cam again and again – long after he had thrown all those tearful verses into the fire and Alex had become editor of the school paper, long after a girl who could sing told him over barbecue and coke he had been a very good boy and she liked him very much but sorry she loved somebody else very very much.

He could have cried. He could have screamed why didn’t you tell me long ago damn you damn you damn you! But he was a good boy and he said I wish you all the luck in the world. The girl smiled and he walked her home in the moonlight.

He did cry later, not because of his lost first love (that was something to laugh at), but because the moonlight was so beautiful and the world wasted it by sleeping. That was the mid-May on the beach far away and long ago.

Teaching poetry to high school seniors was a matter of God’s grace, he foolishly thought more than thrice, or else he would not have stayed in this dusty-muddy town for four years. Then Alex and Dardo came. These gum-chewing boys in college were now teachers! With some extra gift from the Holy Ghost, they were all ready to set the town and the world on fire with their liberal arts and ratio studiorum. You better start from the ABC, he warned them. This is not the Ateneo or La Salle. Rolly said be careful you don’t stay old bachelors (as if 25 were an age). Look at Nonong. And soon he’ll lose his moon to the Russians. Laughter. I’m twenty, Alex said, and the first day of class he reported that five of his 1A students were older than he. Dardo had something more sensational to say: he was the smallest boy in 2A. Congratulations, Alex said.

The school year dragged on – his fourth – and for the fourth time, he resigned himself to the fate of correcting themes and reading “The Raven” and Rizal’s good-bye in the most insipid translation. Rolly’s marriage broke the companionship started in English 1, Room 21, first year A.B. Rolly was barely fifteen then but he was quite a companion in playing charade and condemning Filipino movies. Together, they fairly gave justice to the Jesuits.

Rolly knew how to conjugate Latin and he wanted to go to the seminary. He told Rolly: you’ll get married at twenty-four. Rolly became Tina’s husband at twenty-two. Indeed, love was blind and lovers could not hear.

This year Alex and Dardo were there to share his room in Mrs. Edillon’s house on top of a low hill overlooking the town. The bachelors, people referred to them as they marched off to school or to church – intent and invulnerable to all acts of God: floods, thunder and lightning, winds, women – yards ahead of Rolly who had just had an appendectomy and a wife.

With his brushes, easel, palette, and bottled and boxed colors, Alex brought a scrabble set. They played deep into the night – inventing words, quarreling over them, intimately mocking one another for ignorance of a certain term. Thinking of the sandwiches he would lose at Foa Yee’s, Dardo usually said, this is a term in biology. Proof, Alex said, his voice taunting with the authority of a pocket Webster. The biologist searched the indices of his pile of textbooks while he man named Nonong struggled over his addition of the points, now and then watching the moon filter through the pomelo leaves.

Now the moon stared harder from its solo eyehood, stirring him to madness, drawing him to somewhere he did not know but was reflected on the leaves the moment the moon painted the world with white silence.

He opened the window wider and without a second thought, stepped out onto the roof under the window where the pomelo tree extended branches inviting enough to wake up the boy in every man. And the boy swung the man over the branches noiselessly like the tread of the moon on the clouds.

Soon he was sitting on the grass with all his day clothes on. His feet were bare and he felt the moisture on the grass but he sat there watching the moon, feeling an undefinable ecstasy, thinking of the beaches of the future, waiting for anything, probably a vision of himself who, for so long, had been alien and remote.

He was a madman.

Nonong.

And he saw the vision. Alex was beside him, with all his day clothes on, barefooted and lean-faced and smiling and serene, and he felt like embracing his nearness, aching all over with the brotherhood. He looked at Alex but said nothing. Silence made the strongest bond, even outside monasteries.

But Alex was not a madman. Was he?

And so they conversed in silence:

Why are you here?

Didn’t you wake me up many times to see your moon?

I didn’t wake you up tonight.

That’s why I woke up.

Silly. How did you come?

Through the window.

Two men in the moonlight. Did Alex see the moonlight on the beach far away and long ago? Did Alex weep because the night was beautiful and the world wasted it by sleeping? Did Alex lose a girl because he was always very good? Did Alex teach in this dusty-muddy town because of God’s grace?

They said nothing. They sat on the grass and watched the moon.

Alex wrote verses about the life of men and the death of cigarettes. (he wrote verses, too, and burned them.)

Alex painted trees and hills. (He painted, too. The crazy portrait of a farm boy devouring a pile of durian done on black cartolina with crayola and Myrisia pomade was still hanging somewhere in the law library.)

Alex came from Claveria Street (damn the men who changed it to Claro Recto!), a neighbor to three banks, a moviehouse for first-run run Filipino cowboy pictures, a girl’ college where he studied up to the fourth grade, and a blockful of offices. I live on Wall Street, Alex would say. Haha, Dardo would say.

He came from a house on top of a cliff, in Calinan, overlooking a river, his river. Last Christmas vacation he brought Alex and Dardo there. They spent days in the river, not bathing, just sitting on the boulders and watching the water form into eddies to spin forever. You should see my river in the moonlight, he said. But it was December and it rained.

Dardo came from Bansalan, in the far south, where people planted corn and killed each other on the wayside. I’m a pacifist, he said and carried a knife to the barber ship the first week he was in this northern town.

He looked at Alex’s profile against the glossy leaves of Mrs. Edillon’s potted plants. He opened his mouth to say something but he forgot what to say. For he saw something. Deeper than the younger man’s well etched silhouette he saw again, and well-defined now, the terrible identity that arrested him anew. He saw himself! And suddenly, the alien and the remote became so fearfully familiar, so near he wanted to hold it and crush it till it escaped no more. He must destroy this hound, this reminder, this mirror before it made him completely mad.

And Alex almost screamed for he saw a transfiguration. His companion stood tall blocking the moonlight. There was an instant change in his face: his eyes grew dull and blank and heavy like a somnambulist’s, his lean veined arms extended as if to embrace him.

And Alex saw the hands, the fingers flexed like talons towards his throat…

The moon was in his eyes!

They grappled on the grass in the moonlight. In the maze of images in his pulsating moon-maddened mind, he was aware of the struggle: but it was not against a concrete though protean form of some voluminous fear. It was a struggle against an abstraction that had been given texture and dimensions such as he could perceive in his innumerable nightmares.

Alex gripped the two slender wrists before those hands could touch him further and shook the other man with all his might.

You are mad, Nonong! Alex’s voice was a repressed fear. You are hurting me. Wake up! Wake up!

And the madman woke up from the trance. He did not hear Alex’s voice but the sudden burst of piano notes from the house. Mrs. Edillon was playing the piano in the middle of the night. Was it Schubert Serenade?  No. Orchids in the Moonlight? No. I’ll Be Seeing You? No. Just notes, exercises, now straining into a magnificent  crescendo, now fading…

And he knew he was sick, mad.

Are you all right? Alex was worried. You wanted to kill me!

I wanted to destroy something,  some monster that has been hounding me all these years!

But why me – me?

Because you remind me of many things. Because I see myself in you!

You are mad!

He said nothing.

You scared me. And you are not even sorry for it!

Sorry. Please forget it.

Forget it! My God, I don’t understand you!

You do! You do! He turned him with a sudden violence in his voice. You understand me! You think my thoughts, you dream my dreams; you feel my pain, my joy. Don’t you see? You are mad with my own madness!

Alex stared at him puzzled.

Why in hell are you with me? He shouted. Why aren’t you asleep like all the rest?

I can’t sleep.

Because like me you are mad! Because like me you are ruled by the moon. Because like me you hunger for another world!

He paused. Alex looked at him long. Slowly, in an instinctive gesture of recognition and understanding, he laid his hand on the other man’s shoulder.

I see, he said simply, sincerely.

They left the grass and the moon for the house, saying nothing but feeling the loudness of each other’s presence. They remembered that the house was locked from inside and to knock at the door would be a scandal: imagine, boarders leaving the house through the window and knocking in the middle of the night to be let in!

They looked at each other and with faint familiar smiles walked around the house to where the pomelo tree extended branches inviting enough to wake up the boys in men. Mrs. Edillon’s fingers were mad on the piano keys, as if aware of something unnatural happening in this world ruled by the moon.

Was Mrs. Edillon also mad? No. She slept the whole afternoon and could not sleep at night so she played the piano to wake up lunatics from their trance.

Yes, he had met other madmen and madwomen before. But where were they now? Some had wakened up into sanity by selling floor wax and insurance, but just the same: they had been mad, crazed by color and sound, by sunset and moonlight, by voices in the night…

Lourdes Padilla.

Choy Escano.

Butch Garcia.

Cecilia Bacani.

Samy Borgaily.

Lydia Lascano.

Where were they now? Choy, Butch, Cely and Samy were married. Paddy was dead. Cancer. She was buried among the dead of the Assumption nuns of Herran. Lydia was the maddest of all. She finished chemistry and joined the Belgian Sisters. Now she was teaching grade Four at St. Theresa’s.

The moon was now on the other side of the eaves. The darkness in the room was soft and the piano notes sounded loud but far and haunting like a memory. In the honeymooners’ room, Rolly mumbled meaningless syllables in his sleep. Dardo stirred in his cot but did not wake up to see the two men arrive from an unmeasurable journey. Inside his mosquito net, he must be dreaming of the preserved animals in his biology room.

For Dardo was not a madman. For Dardo was not of the brotherhood. So was Rolly – and so were all the faces of men and women he had met but seen nothing through them – the men and women who were not mad, who slept while the  moon painted the world with white silence.

Close the window, Alex.

The man from Claveria Street slowly, reluctantly, closed the window, his movements like a ritual. In the dark, the loudness of their thoughts rhymed with all the mad piano notes in the town.

Outside, the moon painted the world with white silence.

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One Comment on “Lunacy by Leoncio P. Deriada”

  1. inday bisaya says:

    “a balding scholar who never learned the art of public speaking in his Augustinian alma mater, flunked him in organic chemistry.”
    sigurado tanang ning-agi ug college may at least usa ka prof nga mura ini:-).
    vintage Deriada.
    himself was very casual sa klase, di ka makaingon nga sikat apan sharp kaayo siya ug criticism.


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