Man In Dapitan

Man in Dapitan
Loreto Paras Sulit

The boys came to know him very well. Their friendship with this lonely man with the kind voice began one day when the boys could not agree on the answer to a question in their day's lesson in catechism.
As they passed the house where he stayed, they had a discussion in loud, angry voices, Lope shouting loudest of all. “I tell you that I am right. My answer is the right one!” Hugo and Felix grinned in mock disbelief. Lope with the curly heard, quick with his fists, quickly rolled the sleeves of his camisa de chino(i). Hugo and Felix also rolled up their sleeves.
“Now, boys, can fists settle an argument? Are you trying to dins out who is the strongest among you, or are you trying to find out who is right?”
The boys stopped short in their coming fight. Everybody knew everybody else in Dapitan. So the boys knew that this was the man who had just arrive in town. They saw someone with an attractive, kindly face. His eyes could command when he wanted to. The strong line of his jaw reminded the boys of rocks. It seemed to tell them of something hard and unbreakable. As they stared at him, he went on to say, “If you want to dins out who is right, open your books, read the answer very well, and which of you gave the one exactly like it. One of you may win with his fists, but that would not prove that his answer is correct.”
His voice died away as he looked toward the sea. It seemed as if he had fallen into a dream. The boys walked away in silence. At a distance they stopped and opened their catechisms. The man on the porch smiled to himself.
After that say whenever the boys passed by the spot, they would eagerly look for him. Usually he was either reading or writing. When he saw them he would wave to them.
One day Lope took a bunch of ripe mangosteens along with him. He pulled the other two with him and he shyly offered the fruit. The man's quick bright smile completely won their hearts. Soon they were all conversing with him as though he were their favorite uncle. “Boys,” he asked them, “ would you like to learn another language besides Spanish?” I'll teach you another if you can stay with me hald an hour every day about this time.”
“What language, sir?” asked Felix.
“Have you choice—French, English, German.”
The boys looked at him closely. At first they thought he was joking, but his unsmiling face told them he was serious.
“Let us study English,” suggested Lope.
So English it was. After a week they knew the English names of many objects in their homes and in the town. They could manage short answers to questions, greetings, and simple statements.
During the says that followed, Lope, who had been the most interested and active, appeared to be very absent-minded.
“What is the matter, Lope?” asked the teacher. Lope tried hard to speak in a steady voice, but he could not stop the quiver of his lips. “It is my mother, sir. My mother cannot see these days. She is almost blind. The doctor says she has to go to Manila to be operated on. But father cannot take her to Manila. We are very poor, sir.”
“Let us go to your mother, Lope. Perhaps I can help her.” He went inside the house and came out with a black bag. Lope had no chance to refuse. The man was fully prepared to go with him.
Lope's mother was sitting on a bamboo chair in the shady portion of the yard. She inclined her face toward the sounds of coming footsteps. Lope ran to her and rubbed his face against her left arm. She smiled gently, but the light did not reach her eyes. There was only sorrow there.
“Mother,” cried Lope excitedly, “someone is here who will help us” Lope was so sure his friend could help his mother.
His friend was now looking into his mother's eyes, just like any other doctor peering into them. Lope felt better just to see him examining his mother's eyes. When Lope's father arrived, there was a hurried consultation between the two men.
Lope heard his friend say to his father, “It is not serious, really. It will require only a simple operation if you will let me do it for you.”
From the look on his father's face, Lope knew that he has also immediately trusted this man. His mother was taken into the house.
Lope waited outside. How long the hours seemed! Would they never finish? What was happening to his mother?
At last his father and friend came out. They smiled when they saw Lope's anxious face. “Don't worry too much, Lope,” said his friend. “Next week your mother will be able to thread her needle even at night.”
“Sir,” said Lope's father, “in all this excitement my young son has forgotten to tell me the name of the person we shall always be thankful and grateful to. May we know the name of Mother's doctor?”
The man smiled briefly. “Well, if you want to remember my name—it is Jose Rizal,” he said.

(i)camisa de chino – a collarless shirt worn by men and boys during the 19th and 20th centuries