The Story: Finished Reyes’ short story BUHAY (LIFE). Now I get it. Ida, the not-very-well-fed 7-year-old girl, trips, and, after the package of noodles she is carrying bursts on the street, the noodles slip (? — nagsampiran — could not find a translation for that word) into the muck of the canal. This is a sad event, of course, but it is also conspicuously not a huge tragedy, not the least because Ida has already eaten half the noodles. The more trivial and less trivial events of Ida’s day are what the story relates directly, but what’s hidden behind these events is a tragedy the outlines of which gradually emerges for the reader, though not for Ida. Ida’s mother, widowed and left impoverished by the extra-judicial killing of her husband by the police, has just resorted to prostitution in order to buy food for Ida and her young brother, Obet, and to buy medicine for Obet, who has fallen sick with a fever. Reyes shows, but does not tell, that, in spite of the medicine she went to desperate extremes to buy, the mother does not think Obet is going to live. Half of Ida’s noodles do her no good; probably the medicine will not do Obet enough good.
The general structure of the story: BUHAY starts with Ida making these strange movements…then the reader gradually (more slowly for the reader who is just learning Tagalog) realizes she is playing some version of Hide And Seek with Emy, who suddenly emerges from her hiding place. Something overt, and something hidden which emerges. Something overt — Ida knows her mother has just bought a beautiful red dress — something hidden that emerges (though not for Ida) — her mother has just resorted to prostitution. Something overt — the events of a 7-year-old’s day; something hidden that partially comes into Ida’s view but more fully into the reader’s view — the mother’s desperation.
I doubt very much I am saying anything original by pointing out that presenting things this way (not stating the important things directly, but letting them emerge for the reader from the less important, even trivial things) vastly increases the impact of the story. To state something directly is to put it in a category … is to risk wearing away the sharp point of this particular tragedy by rendering it as just one tragedy among countless others. Not stating it directly increases the chances the story will be kasingkulay ng buhay (equally colored as life itself).
Aristotle’s Katharsis, I suppose: In one of the Tagalog reviews in GOODREADS of SA AKING PANAHONG, the reviewer noted he started out reading the stories to his mother, but then stopped because she would start sobbing after each one. I am not sure why I am reading these — I start sobbing after each one.