The 1st Prize Palanca Award-winning Hiligaynon Story by Peter Solis Nery.
English translation by Prof. Celia F. Parcon.
According to Lola Pansay the midwife, all the butterflies went wild when Nanay Rosa gave birth to Lirio, the Mute. The old woman could never forget that birth, a curious event. That was the only time she had ever seen a large gathering of butterflies. In her estimation, all the butterflies in Barrio Jardin and other neighboring sitios flocked to witness Lirio’s birth.
When the midwife patted the baby’s buttocks, it did not make a sound. The old woman then slapped its butt, but still the baby did not cry. Then the butterflies hovered around the old lady who had the baby in her arms. For a while these unusual visitors stopped flying, as if they were poised in prayer. The baby in Lola Pansay’s arms smiled, and that was all.
The old woman put down the baby beside Nanay Rosa who was almost unconscious. It was a difficult delivery; the mother lost a lot of blood. But Nanay Rosa smiled when she felt her baby by her side.
Thousands of butterflies were at the baby’s christening. They frolicked and danced outside the chapel. Their wings were like nuns’ hands in prayer: open, close, open, close. The baby smiled.
When Padre Rafael asked how the baby was to be called, Tatay Manuel gave the name: Lirio, after the lily. The father said the name Lirio suited her well, for the baby was very fair-skinned. If Lola Pansay were to be believed, in the long time that she had been midwife in Barrio Jardin, Lirio was the fairest of all the babies whose umbilical cord she had cut. This was a source of great pride for Tatay Manuel whose ancestry bore dark sunburned skin.
On the day of the christening itself, the barrio chapel was flooded with white lilies because Padre Rafael was officiating a wedding after the baptism. But it was only Nanay Rosa who noticed the very white flowers; everyone else had their attention on Lirio’s very fair skin, especially because the baby looked even more enchanting in the white frock its mother put on her.
Lirio glowed when Padre Rafael made a cross of holy oil on her forehead. She smiled when water was poured over her head, and she soundlessly chuckled as she gazed at the butterflies peering through the chapel windows.
Tatay Manuel proudly cradled his child as the godparents lighted candles. Many had thought that one of the couple was sterile because they had remained childless after almost twenty years. But now in their advanced age, they were blessed with a beautiful and unique child, Lirio the Silent One.
Lirio was greatly loved by her parents, but she grew up without friends. She had wanted to join in the many children’s games like hide-and-seek and others, but the other children did not give her any attention. She was often sad because, being mute, she was always made fun of. Thus, she directed all her time to her books and her crayons.
Lirio had a rare intelligence, so that she was admitted into the first grade even if she could not speak. Tatay Manuel desired to send his child to a special school, but a mere farmer could not afford to send his beloved daughter to the city to study.
Lirio really wanted to attend school, so all Tatay Manuel could do was provide Lirio’s teachers with a sack of rice each from his harvest, in exchange for their understanding of his child’s circumstance.
In school, Lirio became a very close friend to Yasmin Buenaflor, a transferee. Like her, Yasmin was also unique: she was pinkish fair. Even the hair on her head and on her skin was white. From a distance, her eyes looked like they had no pupils: entirely white without the dark centers.
Both of them were subjected to their classmates’ teasing, but Yasmin was bold. She wrestled with those who taunted and mocked them. She was a bit of a tomboy and many feared her. Even the teachers feared Yasmin’s father, who was a captain in the army. (That was actually the reason Yasmin was always a transferee in school: she and her mother went wherever her father was assigned.)
Lirio had great admiration for Yasmin. She copied her friend’s way of dressing and even her hair, which was cut short. When Yasmin’s pencil shortened from use, Lirio would break her own pencil even if this were new, just so that both their pencils were equally short. Before going to bed at night, she would pray that she become like Yasmin.
She would often dream that she was Yasmin. She would wonder what Yasmin did when they parted ways after school. She was many times lost to herself from too much thinking of Yasmin. Sometimes, she would not heed when her name was called. She wanted to be called by her friend’s name. At times, she was convinced that Yasmin was her name.
At the end of their first grade, Captain Buenaflor was assigned to Mindanao. Out of great sadness, Lirio refused to eat for three days. Tatay Manuel and Nanay Rosa found it difficult to console her. A seven-year-old could not comprehend why friends had to part. It was sad to be alone, but it was more miserable when friends had to separate whom Grade One had made very dear to each other.
From then on, Lirio ceased attending school. She helped her mother weave patadyong. And at age nine, for her own amusement, she started tending a garden that bloomed with beautiful fragrant flowers: roses, sampaguita, rosal, gumamela, dahlia, calachuchi, bougainvilla, orchids, and lilies, and all kinds of flowers.
Butterflies and birds flocked to this garden. In the daytime, it was delightful how butterflies chased each other to the chirping of the birds. In the evening, the creaking crickets sounded like a mother’s lullaby.
Lirio was greatly pleased with her plants in bloom. Like her, the flowers did not need to speak. She was happy to relate with the flowers without using her lips and tongue. Without the need for words, she understood the flowers more than she did people. Sometimes she would think how people would better understand other people (or other things) if only they stopped talking.
For many a time the butterflies’ wings would flap like they were applauding the bits of wisdom like this that flowed from the spring of Lirio’s muteness. And the maiden would only smile.
Time came when it was not only in the garden that the butterflies hovered. Wingless butterflies started gathering in the hut in pursuit of the maiden. One of these was Noli whom Lirio also fancied. Noli was handy with electronics. When Lirio’s radio failed to work so that she had to miss listening to her favorite drama on air, a single tweak by Noli was all it took to make the radio work again.
Only Noli understood Lirio’s speechless heart. When he came to visit, he did not boast as the others did. He just remained silent and subdued. He usually offered the girl three white lilies, a symbol of his pure love for her. And Lirio in turn would bring him to her garden to show off the lilies that she planted.
Lirio really fell for Noli. Even the butterflies in the garden clapped with glee when the young woman decided to accept the love that Noli offered her.
But three months after Lirio vowed to return Noli’s love, the young man was pushed by dire need to seek his fortune abroad. He could not refuse a well-paying job that a Japanese employer offered him.
For three months, Lirio shed tears for Noli. Even the butterflies seemed embarrassed to flutter before her. Tatay Manuel and Nanay Rosa were hushed with great pity. They could only shake their heads at the sight of Lirio absently staring at the white lilies before her.
Years passed and no one can explain the events that brought Lirio to marriage with Vicente Lugay—Sgt. Vicente “Itik” Lugay, a sergeant of the PNP.
Perhaps Lirio remembered Yasmin in the brave and brusque sergeant; perhaps she got tired of waiting for Noli. There was a great many “perhaps” but no one knew the real reason Lirio consented to marry Itik Lugay.
In truth, even the butterflies weakened at her decision. In their old age, Tatay Manuel and Nanay Rosa could no longer see nor hear, and they could no longer speak even if they had wanted to refuse. But if only Lirio had taken a glance before she accepted Itik, she might have seen the big black butterfly as it alighted on the front door of the hut.
Before a year had passed after Lirio’s marriage, both her parents died. Word spread in the barrio that they died from Itik’s rough and careless ways. Itik called Tatay Manuel “Zombie” and Nanay Rosa, “Zombelina.” “The Living Dead” were often the topic of drunken talk which brought much amusement to Itik’s drinking buddies.
In the first month of their marriage, immediately Mrs. Lirio Lugay obtained three bumps. That was the start of the old couple’s decline.
Lirio became more silent than ever. Never did she allow her parents to hear the painful moans that slid from her silent lips. Even then perhaps, in their own silence, the old couple could sense what their beloved child was going through. And so to cause Lirio to cry unashamedly (or without any care or concern), they held their breaths until they convulsed and the pupils of their eyes popped out.
Itik continued to get drunk and to beat his wife. And then Noli came home from Japan. Itik raged with jealousy. So Lirio collected much from the cruelty and violence of the jealous drunkard. She silently suffered all the punishment because she could not explain Noli’s constant visit and the three white lilies that he always had for her.
In jealous stupor, Itik would force himself on Lirio even in the noontime heat. Then the cruel worm would fall asleep on top of the tattered girl. And then, even with all the body aches and pains, Lirio would run to her garden. There she would pray that she be turned into a flower.
She envied her lilies. They bloomed so gloriously as if the world had not one reason for tears to fall. At dawn, the lilies would have wet faces but, unlike her, not from tears. It is the dew’s sweet kiss that dampened these chaste and precious flowers. She wanted to be like the lilies.
One night, Itik Lugay had another attack of brutal lust. He came home drunk and intended to again force himself on Lirio. His wife, who had just cried herself to sleep, was suddenly awakened. Everything turned black in her sight, and when her eyes finally cleared, she saw butterflies crowding outside the window. She wondered about this, since butterflies hardly ever came out at night.
Wonder, surprise, fright, and disgust for Itik muddled Lirio’s guts. Lirio ran out to the garden with Itik chasing her. The drunkard saw his pistol on the dresser. He picked it up and followed his wife.
He came upon Lirio on her knees before her white lilies, as if in prayer. Suddenly, horns and a tail came out of Itik. He pointed the gun at his wife.
In her fright, Lirio’s tears melded with nasal fluid as they flowed down her face. Yet she went on praying. Then her tongue moved. She started to babble. Suddenly, out of her mouth flew butterflies. Countless butterflies. Like a gathering of all the butterflies in the entire Barrio Jardin and the neighboring sitios.
Itik was astounded at what he saw. He looked like he had sobered up.
Then, like thunder came these words from the lips of Lirio the Silent One:
“Lord, I want to be a lily!”
And then there was lightning and thunder.
The butterflies then hastily scurried around Itik Lugay who was still holding the gun. They slapped his head with their wings, and they blinded him with the powder from under their wings.
Terrified, but with the gun still in his hand, Itik started to scream. “A fiend you are! You are the devil!”
And a gunshot pierced the quiet of the night.
… had turned into a lily.