Re-writing Maria Clara

“The future is dark and our destiny is among shadows! I do not know what I have to do, but I know for sure that I love only once. Without that love I will never belong to anyone!”

(Maria Clara) Noli me Tangere

It was building up to be just another ordinary hour of third year high school Rizal class when V suddenly decided to open her big mouth: “Ms. A! Ms. A! Favorite chapter po ‘to ni Lea kasi may halikan!”

The afternoon revelation flew into Ms. A’s ear and out the other. Some classmates snickered. I was mortified. But then I wasn’t at the same time. She must’ve heard me gushing about it to a friend. And it was true. “Ikakasal si Maria Clara”* was my favorite chapter in Jose Rizal’s Noli me Tangere. Yes, there was a kissing scene there. And yes, I liked it because I found it both romantic and tragic at the same time. It was a literary moment that left a lasting emotional imprint on me.

So, V was right. I was and still am a fan of that azotea first and goodbye kiss. I re-read that chapter enough to internalize the halo-halo emotions swirling inside Maria Clara–how she couldn’t let herself be swept off her feet with that initial kilig because as soon as it happened, it morphed into despair for her love–for Ibarra’s doomed fate and her fatal decision.

Now I remember why reading that chapter was so potent for me. It was the moment that I decided I would write Maria Clara a better story–I would give her a voice, a future, and a love that empowers her to find her own courage and to fight for everything she holds dear. I would give her the power to forge her own fate.

P.S. I did start a draft of my Maria Clara novel. It’s a work in progress.

*I read that chapter in both Filipino and English–my battered high school textbook copy and my sister’s Ateneo-era copy of Soledad Lacson Locsin’s English translation. I love the latter copy because I get a lot more details from Locsin’s translation and it flows seamlessly. I still have it in my bookcase in my bedroom. (More like I “borrowed” it from my sister with no intention of ever returning it. Haha.) That’s how special it is for me.

Photo by: Lea Vergara Apilado

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