The Library

By Domingo G. Landicho
The Eyes of Isis wander amongst the shelves of aging books in the library and like the past days, dreamlike visions rush into his mind. He gently wipes off cobwebs and dust from each of the reddish, bluish and brownish covers of old books. He pulls them out from the shelf, rubbing the brownish covers, like the gentle touch on a newborn child. Isis looks at the letters on the books but they are just horizontal lines of images to him, a juxtaposition of images, although he can read some of them. As a whole, they are simply structured images to his eyes with no meaning impressed upon his head. Only two rows of shelves have not been dusted.

Inside the room, guarded by the glass window panes with thick velvet curtains, Isis can feel an inner glory. He is alone in his mind, of voices and dreams, and Isis knows that the fleeting and significant moments do not last long. The chief librarian and her staff will soon arrive. He will later attend to the dirty and dusty shoe marks on the floor or heed some errand for the librarian, like buying soft drinks or a cup of coffee or sending letters. Isis is silently thankful to Felipe, a fellow janitor, for resigning from his job. While he was still working there, Miss Santillan, the chief librarian, turned to the young man to do the dusting of the shelves, and Isis thought then, that the former was given that privilege because Felipe was able to study. Just wipe the floor, you should have less work, said Miss Santillan, yet Isis was not happy. Felipe finished an education course, and Isis knew it was the reason for the new arrangement. He was not at all happy with Felipe working with him. And when he learned that Felipe was leaving to teach in his farming village, Isis silently welcomed the event with joy, especially when Miss Santillan told him that he would be back to his job of wiping the dust on the bookshelves. So early that Monday morning, Isis trudges upon the creaking bamboo bridge that linked his world in Pinagpala and the world of vision offered by the books of knowledge. And now, among the cobwebs and dust and the juxtaposed black letters on the pages of the books he is wiping, the dream of Isis dances on the rainbow and he is now ready to meet the little, mighty steps, the little noises of chairs being pulled, the murmurings, and the bustle of so many visitors.

THE CLOSED door creaks. Miss Santillan comes in, the racing steps nearing him. Soon, the chief librarian stands before him with her boney face, well-coiffured hair, matched with glittering earrings and a loud colored dress. Isis smiles. The librarian smiles at him too.

“You come early, Isis.”

“I woke up quite early. Nothing to do at home. It’s good to start work early.”

“I also feel that way. As soon as I wake up, I think of the library. This place has become a part of ourselves.”

“That’s true, Miss Santillan.”

“How’s your daughter?”

MARYA’S EYES, glum and troubled, greet Isis. She stares at him, then glumly looks afar. The table has been set, fried salted fish is in a small plate, with the rice in a bigger plate. Isis gently taps the shoulder of his wife, hugs her and kisses her cheek. He goes to the table and starts to eat alone. Soon, he notices the unusual silence of Marya.

“Are you so tired?” Isis asks his wife.

“No. . .”

“How’s Banaag?”

“She went to bed early.”

Isis finishes eating. He gets water from the tap and drinks. He walks toward Marya. Her eyes are fixed at a distant star.

“What’s troubling you, Marya?”

Marya looks at Isis, saying something inaudible. Tears well in her eyes.

“Anything wrong?”

Marya nods. “The police came today. They had the court order evicting us here.” Her voice is soft and trembling, yet Isis hears thunder and tempest.

“What did the barrio head say?”

“He was helpless too. It’s a court order. We have no right to stay here.”

“We have a right to live here. We’re humans. The government will just build a supermarket complex here. Why must the people be sacrificed?”

“Don’t ask me, Isis. How can

I understand?”

Marya unfolds a nipa mat on the floor of the shack, hangs the four strings of the mosquito net on the protruding nails at the wooden poles of the house. They both lay on the mat. The window has been left slightly open, and gentle breeze kisses the night. But Isis can not sleep. He hears the faint breath of Marya. He knows she too is still awake.

“Why can’t we go back to the village, Isis?” Marya asks.

There is deep silence.

“We’ll stay in the city, Marya. For Banaag. There’s a promise of life here.” There is firmness and finality in his voice.

THE SOFT BREEZE touches their humanity like a lullaby. Sleep soothes the troubled souls, and the couple find a kindred strength while lying

together. Isis’s mind wanders to a past dream. He remembers how he got his job in the library. He used to be a scavenger in the city, collecting little items of rubbish. There was a demonstration, red flags, placards, and loud voices amid the atmosphere of anger and resentlment: down with US imperialism, down with the dictatorship, down with feudalism, down with fascism! Then stones rained on the white building which he faintly knew. He was then aware that the clean young men went to the imposing edifice daily. There was a clash between the police and the demonstrators, and Isis found himself amongst those who protected the white building from the mob’s wrath. After that, he was offered a janitorial job by a white man inside the halls filled with books of great knowledge.

ISIS is awakened by shouts and loud noises. He feels the gush of warm air and sees the red face of the night. Isis rises and closely holds Banaag, while Marya collects a few things and places them in a sack. The library is on fire, the tongue of the flame dances as the wind blows. After depositing his wife and daughter in a safe place, he rushes to the burning building. The fire is just starting in a far wing of the edifice. Isis runs toward the reading room and opens it with a key. He grabs a fire extinguisher in a corner and faces the raging fire. The conflagration surges with fury and Isis retreats after a futile struggle. The last thing he thought about was what the library meant to him and to Banaag and he would do everything to save it.

Isis regains consciousness in a hospital bed. Marya and Banaag are by his side, so is the chief librarian. His entire body aches.

“You’re lucky, Isis. The firemen came on time,” Marya tells him as she sobs.

“The library was not saved, Isis, “says Miss Santillan tearfully.

Domingo G. Landicho, an award-winning writer of poetry and fiction in Filipino, occasionally writes in English. He is a retired U.P. professor emeritus.

Sourced from Manila Times July 20, 2008 :