My recent post about being single on Valentine’s Day reminded me of a short story we read back in university in our Philippine literature class. Kerima Polotan-Tuvera’s The Virgin remains as one of my favourite stories, and to this day, her words resonate deeply in my life. You can read the short story here, and find a short review of the story here. While it would be too hasty to assume I would become an old bachelor similar to The Virgin’s main character Miss Mejares, the old maid, it would be gravely hypocritical of me to deny that I haven’t lived her own experiences, or thoughts.
In the video I shared in my previous post, I mentioned the poet Tanya Davis who so eloquently showed the beauty in being alone. We live in a society which still frowns upon those who remain unmarried, whether by choice or by circumstance. Our conservative tradition highly values family life, and so many men and women were brought up to think that marriage is the be all and end all of life. While I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with the prevailing attitudes in our country, it’s still quite encouraging to see fellow Filipino men, and even more women, who aren’t afraid to live a permanent single life. Some have married their careers. Others have taken upon them to task to help marginalized communities. Many live harmless lives as productive members of society.
There is nothing wrong with being single, whether for the moment or for life.
However, those who live such a life still experience an odd day or two, when their disappointments mix with the longing for company; or when they are confronted with obstacles which appear impossible to resolve without a partner. In The Virgin, Tuvera powerfully described this “moment” of doubt in the passage I will quote below. I guess for many of us who are always on our own, we may have encountered such moments – brief or long-lasting – of longing.
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.