When I was younger, Manila had a huge power crisis that called for the rationing of electricity. There wasn't enough to go around, so everyone had to endure hours of blackouts (which my fellow locals have inexplicably called "brownouts" since before I was born) on a daily basis. The worst ones, as you can imagine, were those which came at night.
I wish I could recall all the scary "shorts" I heard at school in those days. Half urban legend, half familiar-sounding folktale, they all had something to do with darkness and candles and mirrors. The one I found most memorable was the first version of "Tres Marias" I had the dark pleasure of hearing.
The next time the lights go out, a breathless classmate told me, I should go to the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror, hold up my candle for light, close my eyes, say, "Maria, Maria, Maria," and open my eyes . . . and then I'd see "Maria" in the mirror before me.
Who this "Maria" was, nobody ever explained. You're supposed to know it in the part of your mind that understands scary stories.
Anyway, I very nearly tried summoning "Maria"--just to see if she would appear--but never got around to doing it after I heard that if you knock on the mirror instead, you'd summon the devil. For even then I had no doubt that, unlike "Maria," he seizes every opportunity to come when he's called.
The rolling blackouts had stopped completely by the time I was in the sixth grade, with my homeroom on my old school building's third floor--a level which had near-mythical status in the eyes of everyone in the lower grades. The "Tres Marias" story had been adjusted accordingly: if you want to see "Maria," everyone knew, all you had to do was remain on the third floor after the dismissal bell, wait for everyone else to leave you behind, and then say her name three times. I don't know if anyone ever tried it, but I know that everyone who had ever had to go back for something at the end of the day always took a friend with her--and that they always came back at a run, hands tightly clasped. (Heck, I once did the same with a girl I didn't even like and for whom the sentiment was mutual: for those frantic five minutes, we were besties!)
I mention these memories not to be tiresome (Forgive me if I failed!), but to introduce our first Nick Joaquin short story of the month: May Day Eve.
Joaquin is well-known for taking these kinds of legends and folktales--the kind that are only fully alive in an oral tradition--and weaving them into his otherwise realistic fiction. And I think the reason I love him so much is that the same oral tradition he draws from is part of my reality.
So when I came to that part in the story where Agueda stands in front of the dark mirror to chant the incantation--having convinced herself that she doesn't really believe in it and is only doing it to prove her superstitious friends wrong--I knew it wouldn't end well.
But this is more than a story of what you see in mirrors you aren't supposed to be looking into, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks of it after you've read it.
Guilt-Free Learning Notes, Sept. 16
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