The life of cardo?

The people of the town never understood Cardo. I alone, perhaps, understood him a little. Of course we all have a right to our own opinions.
Last vacation when I went to visit my relatives in Pasuquin, I first saw him. I was talking to Lorenza before their window when Cardo passed with dragging footsteps, his head bowed. He was not much over five feet tall with a gnarled, disjointed body like the trunk of a balete tree. At night, he took on an especially grotesque fearful aspect. He always wore a black camesa de chino, and his pants, reaching to the knees, were also black. This added to his unearthly appearance.
The girl said: "He is very terrible."
"Has he ever done wrong?"
"Why is he terrible then?"
"Only see how he looks! He is like the devil. He is very ugly. He looks drunk. He seems cruel."
He was the fear of the mothers, I learned. For though he was terrible and ugly, he had very nice way with children. Not with those who could walk and run. No. In fact, Lorenza said that the older children were afraid of him and hid at his approach. But the babies were not afraid. The small babies smiled radiant, happy smiles at him. The babies did not smile at their own fathers or mothers as they smiled at Cardo. That was why the parents were afraid of him; in fact, they hated him. Cardo might steal their babies. Or he might be the brother of the devil who cast spell over their children.
One day, so the beautiful Lorenza told me, Cardo was passing by. He saw a small baby in the arms of its mother- or the baby saw him (she corrected herself) - and the baby smiled. A beautiful smile that would touch a heart in sorrow. The mother was wondering why her baby was so suddenly restless. The baby was looking over its mother's shoulder. The mother looked around and saw, gnarled and distorted, ugly Cardo. She was frightened and screamed so loud that her husband who was sleeping, woke up. The mother did not see the baby smile. But Lorenza said that she saw him and Cardo smile at each other. Cardo's face was haggard, wasted, twisted, but the way he smiled was as clear as the sun in the morning. And the baby was smiling like the angels who look down on Jesus in the pictures the town priest often gave to the people of the town. Lorenza feared the smile even in its beauty because it was so strange.
Then the father came down with a piece of bamboo hardened by fire in his hand...
"What is it? What is it!" he cried.
Than he saw Cardo. The father ran up to Cardo and began to beat him with the bamboo. It was good the bamboo was not a bolo. But poor Cardo did not return the blows. He could have fought back, Lorenza said, for Cardo was quite strong. But Cardo was dazed, the girl told me. Cardo only looked at the father with surprised and then supplicating eyes. Cardo's head and breast were bleeding. Carlo tried to protect himself with his arms, then he groaned, --swooned, Lorenza thought,--and the neighbors intervened.
Later Cardo rose up painfully still groaning, poor man. Yet he did not say a word; he only looked at the people and the child's father with something like prayer in his sad, gleaming eyes. He groaned all the while. A beaten dog was better than he. Perhaps he wondered why he was punished for just smiling at the innocent baby. But the baby was so beautiful and no one had ever seen the child smile before like it smiled at Cardo.
Then Cardo staggered away. The people said he lived in a small cogon hut near the river. The baby saw him going and smiled again.
The beautiful Lorenza often wondered what power had Carlo over babies. She saw many babies smile at Cardo even when they cried before their mothers. That, perhaps, was the reason why Cardo was never understood, was hated by fathers and mothers. He was probably a witch,

Life of Cardo, page 2

the brother of the devil. Lorenza told me that though she feared him even as the other people did; she wanted to see the smile, though she feared even the smile.
I was greatly interested. My glance followed Cardo until he disappeared in the woods by the river. He might have been beaten again, the girl told me.
"Oftentimes I think that too. But you see, his ugly, distorted face drives pity and sympathy away. Of course, they are doing injustice to the poor man-especially as he has never done any harm. But they are only playing safe with their children. Why does Carlo make the children smile that way? He might throw a charm upon them - the parents are naturally afraid."
I nodded. "From, where is he?"
"That adds to the mystery."
"Does he often come to the town?"
"Yes. Even if he is always punished. He comes-and looks through the windows-to find if there are babies to smile at. And they do not dare to kill him either, because though he is beaten until he is conscious, he does not return the blows. He only goes back to the river-and comes again."
"Perhaps he wants to be killed."
"Could that be?"
I nodded." Maybe, "I said. " Maybe, he wants to tell something. His life has a meaning, maybe. Maybe…"
Then came that day I talked to Cardo. I told myself after I had seen him that I at last understood him. Now I doubt it. He is still an enigma. Unsolved.
It was at the cemetery at Pasuquin. The cemetery is no longer used. During the Spanish times, yes; now it is too far from the town to be utilized. But I am interested in relics and visited the place several times.
The graves were old, and most of the crosses were down. The place was overgrown with grass and sweet-smelling herbs. Wild flowers grew there that somehow were beautiful with sadness. There were even trees growing over the graves-nourished perhaps on the bones of the dead.

The evening was falling, and as I walked to the farther end of the cemetery, I thought I had heard a low cry. I was a little startled. Then I saw the form of a man.
It was Cardo. He was crying over a grave. I recognized him because of his ugly, distorted body like the balete. I touched his shoulders.
He moved. Then in the dusk I saw him smile that radiant smile of his that babies lived so much. But something seemed to creep in my blood.
" Why are you here" " I asked.
" Yes." Only that ghostly " yes" for an answer.
" Your dead?'
He smiled. " You know, " he answered.
And he told me the tale of his life. A tale filled with the mysteries of life, full of passion and desire and yet of sweetness.
" …I was a seeker after the meaning of life, " he told me. " I wanted to know if life is dreaming or living and dying. I saw the many beautiful things of the world, like flowers and their perfumes, sunsets. While I, myself, was distorted and ugly. Ugly face, ugly feet, twisted, gnarled…I look like the devil. In my childhood they named me, screamed at me: " Judas! Judas! Judas! I was puzzled at first. Why did they call me Judas? I was not bad. Judas!
I prayed-better than they. Only, I was ugly. Only for that did they call me Judas. " Why?" I asked myself, I wanted to know why they called me Judas and why they admired what was perfect and beautiful, what was charming and good. Why I, too, admired what was good. And why they hated me because I was nothing but a freak of God. Might I not know?...
" And I went away. I was lonely-among strange men and in strange places. Still they jeered at me, laughed at me. Called me Judas and other dirty names. I was even put in prison. They accused me of having stolen something. But might I not learn, why? Why? Might I not?
" I looked at the beauty of women. Of beautiful women. What was in them that they were admired and married by men? I glanced at many pretty portraits by artists, at drawings of naked women. Why did I desire beauty? What was this beauty in life that others fight and die for? Might I not know?
"Then, I do not know-I leaned on a post one day and learned to smile. I smiled at women then and held them spellbound. They began to look at me with worshipping eyes. Had I turned into a God? They began to smile at me. I smiled at a young girl with bright eye. She
Life of Cardo, page 3

smiled. She was slender like the lily. I wondered: what did she find in me who am only a freak of God? Had I beauty within the soul of me? I wondered I wanted to know. I was a seeker for the truth of life."
"She married you?"
"Yes. Yes, I do not know why. I had nothing to show to her to attract her. And she was glorious. But she saw, perhaps, what was beautiful in me, too, what was beautiful in my ugliness that I did not know. Perhaps it was the beauty of the spirit and the intelligence, the soul unhampered in its search for truth. And she fell, perhaps, only in that light…
"I caught the magic of her beauty; I took wholly from her by my own ugliness. I told her I was Judas and she answered by crying. Why should I say that, she asked me, when she loved me? When I was kind? And beautiful? I wondered . I laughed. Beautiful ? Me? I laughed again…

" Then we had a baby. The baby smiled at me. Did it smile because I, his father, was ugly? Called Judas? I wanted to know that-and I know…I know..."

"What do you know?"
"My son smiled at me and I know…"
Without getting his meaning, I asked: "And they are dead?"
"Yes" he answered. "They were both beautiful. They died. Why did they die? I wanted to know that also. I am a seeker of the truth of life. I wanted to know. So I smiled at little children to find the secret. And the women looked at me fearing. Why were they so happy in their children? Because they were living. But why were they living when my child and my dear wife were not? Why did God take them and he did not take the others? I was kind to my wife and child. I loved them and they loved me inspite of my ugliness. Why were they taken from me? I asked God. I asked myself.
"So I smiled at little babies because in them my baby's smile became mine. And the mothers looked at me with hate. I am a witch, they accuse me. Why should they say that? What is life? They beat me-I shed blood. I do not die. What power makes me live? I want to know that too. Why can't they kill me? And why can't I fight, why can I only suffer… and keep smiling at babies?"
It was evening. There were little stars in the heavens. Cardo suddenly said: " I know you. You learn a lot from books. But may I ask you: Why is Cardo like that, and you like that?"
For an answer I scratched my head and he smiled again. He shall live on uncaring, beaten… shedding blood…but wanting to know…what is life…Is there something in life so good, so beautiful that we can never know?

ABRIDGE version :P

the captain