The lake should have been calm, but when you catch yourself at the brink of meeting Death, when everything that you are begins to crumble down to instablity, nothing else can remain perfectly still. Gunshots and voices of their pursuers resonated along the length of the hollow bays and shallow waters, overcoming the sounds of panic and distress reflected by the dissonant slamming of paddle against the lake. The night made Crisostomo Ibarra almost blind, but clearer than day it was as Elias, his only comrade, jumped off of the banka to spark confusion among their pursuers. Ibarra wanted to shout, to stop Elias from swimming any farther, but all he could do was bear witness to a friend’s sacrifice for his welfare. Ibarra felt the ache within because it was just not fair: he did not even feel accountable to his own safety; he did not really care about himself.
Then the pristine water of the lake, blackened by the murk from the night, suddenly became red. A pool of blood it turned into, and Ibarra felt his chest beat along a violent rhythm, wanting to burst…
Ibarra jolted awake, catching himself slumped on a seat by the lounge of the ship. Perhaps he fell asleep in the process of finishing a book he had picked from the stack of many cheap novels on the lounge table. Another dream about the chase in the lake. Roughly four days had passed since the incident, Ibarra now miles away from where it occurred. But he knew that not even a million miles nor a thousand decades would make him forget.
In that very moment, as if eureka finally met his weary mind, Ibarra felt the need to avenge. He felt the urge to destroy something he long should have planned to.
* * *
Crisostomo Ibarra was all set for Europe: he planned to stay there and equip himself with as much knowledge as he can muster until he was finally ready to return to the miserable country he called home and fulfill his newfound purpose.
The ship was drawing near its destination, the land of Japan. In a matter of two to three days, Ibarra will be boarding another ship to take him elsewhere, presumably closer to Europe and, as he had been silently wishing, farther from the Philippines. He wanted nothing more but to get as far away as his money and guts could bear take him. He wanted it to be perfect: no plot holes, no room for setbacks. He was finally decided, and nothing can and will stop him. And so he traveled. And so he arrived in Japan.
This was not Ibarra’s first time to visit Japan, but he barely had friends from the country. He spent the entire afternoon since he arrived looking for a place to stay, someplace that would not cost too much as luxury was now out of his grasp and priorities. A good room with reasonable lodging service and equally reasonable price would be terrific, he thought.
In his pursuit of a temporary home Ibarra found the humble abode of a former samurai named Akira Seiko, who accepted boarders for a price Ibarra believed was enough. The house was plain but spacious, and his room appeared to have been meant for three. Ibarra settled in right away, leaving his things in his rented room and getting back outside to catch the darkness swallow the colors of twilight.
Pacing the street markets of downtown Japan, he looked around, observing the people of Japan in hopes that he may forget, albeit temporarily, his own fellow countrymen and the tragedy that had happened not even an entire week ago. He failed to keep the thoughts at the back of his mind, and so, keeping the havoc that was inside him to himself, he continued to walk on, struggling to stay collected. He eventually found a place where he could be alone, or at least, disconnected from everybody else: on the baywalk, where he could hear the soft noise of the sea, where he still saw the street lights and the people passing by. He sat down on a bench perched just by the baywalk and closed his eyes. As he let out a heavy sigh, he slowly blinked open. There, merely steps away from her, stood a lady. She was Japanese, judging her features; she was beautiful, as well, and timid. Ibarra was immediately captured by her beauty. He remained like that, staring at the Japanese woman in awe, for a moment. And then he caught her looking back at him. Ibarra smiled, but the woman looked away and began to leave.
Disappointment rushed along Ibarra’s veins, but he thought that her ignorance was also for the better. After all, he was far from through with Maria Clara, the woman he had loved since they were children. He missed her, and promised himself that they will be together again, once he finally avenges his nation against the oppressive Spaniards. Ibarra had never loved anyone more than he loved Maria Clara. He wished to be with her lady, but circumstances just wouldn’t allow their two hearts to simply beat in peaceful unison.
After spending a few more moments by the bay, Crisostomo Ibarra went back to the home he was to board in for three days. Halfway to the steps toward the second level of the house he caught a glimpse of the same Japanese lady he found by the bay, standing near the market. He looked twice and realized that he was right: it was her. He stopped on his feet and froze on the spot, staring at the lady in disbelief. The lady caught him staring and, dazed, stared back at him. Following what felt like a long while was Akira Seiko, breaking Ibarra and the lady’s eye contact. Akira immediately introduced the lady as her daughter, Yuka Seiko. Yuka Seiko, Ibarra had to repeat to himself as if testing the syllables and whether they slide just right along his tongue. In turn, he introduced himself to the maiden, slowly pronouncing his name, Crisostomo Ibarra. The lady was watching him intently, as though he was putting up a performance, and then she smiled. He asked for her hand and planted a kiss on it. He placed his eyes back on hers, and in that moment, he knew that he would be wanting to gaze at those two eyes longer than life will permit him to.
The two, after being acquainted, eventually became closer. In a span of two days, they fell in love. They met by the bay during the day and spend the entire afternoon under the sun. When the night falls and they were expected to be back home, they stole glances, smiles, and giggles from and with each other. Like childhood sweethearts they were.
Yuka Seiko was a beautiful maiden, but her beauty was not the only thing about her that Ibarra came to love. She was intelligent and bred of high culture. She knew the right things to say and the right moments to say them. She was the ideal woman, any man would tell Ibarra.
But he knew that he had been lying to himself and to Yuka.
No, he loved being with Yuka but was not in love with the lady. His heart belonged to someone else, someone now too far away from where he was. Maria Clara was his first and greatest love by far.
How could I forget the woman whom have held my heart since the beginning?
But then he could not simply leave the pleasant, beautiful Yuka. For the first time since the tragic incidents in the Philippines, he was happy and calm. With Yuka, he felt relief, safety, assurance that he would soon get better. His plans of vengeance for his country seeming to have slipped at the back of his head, although little part of him knew that this dissociation from his thoughts were just impermanent.
On Ibarra’s second night in Japan, the two met at the garden just outside Yuka’s home. Yuka was reading a waka entitled 仮の (Temporary). Yuka explained to Ibarra how it was in fact a narration of an unnamed woman professing her love for a man named Simoun. Simoun never said goodbye to the woman telling her tale, and through the words of the poem, she said how bitter it felt to have had a love that felt true but was in fact temporary. She laughed and said how it was too relevant, especially because she knew that Ibarra’s stay in Japan was ending soon. Yuka told Ibarra that perhaps the best things were those short-lived. Ibarra felt the pang of guilt and regret, and in that moment, he realized that he was beginning to grow attached to the lady. He was falling in love, but the timing was obviously wrong.
Soon enough, Ibarra had to leave. His bags were fixed; he was all set to head to the next step of his journey. Yuka was out of sight, perhaps somewhere out in the market or inside her room. Ibarra wanted to look for her, but thought better of it. Maybe it would be better if he simply just leave. But as he was carrying his bags down the staircase, visions of Yuka shedding tears upon his departure suddenly flashed behind his eyelids. He stopped on the foot of the stairs and contemplated on staying instead.
Is he truly willing to leave behind his country to be with the woman he just met? Or will he rather leave the woman who was ready to dedicate herself to him, for a corrupted nation willfully serving a race playing gods?
He thought of Maria Clara, and whether she was still waiting for him. Perhaps she was; possibly, she was already fallen for someone else. He thought of Elias, and everyone else he left behind. And will be leaving behind…
* * *
Yuka watched as the outburst of colors in the skies slowly transform into an infinite blanket of blue. She sat by the bay, wondering which of the ships sailing across her Ibarra had boarded. She could not be certain of anything but the fact that Ibarra had left, although the greater, aching part of her wished he stayed.
She returned home as night fell. She had been living in the same house since she was a child, but the house had never felt this empty. At least, since her mother died. Now the walls felt unstable, just as how she felt inside. It was true that the recent occurences were fast-paced, but she knew that she was sure with what she felt. Crisostomo Ibarra—the mysterious, intelligent, controversial man from the islands of the Philippines. He won her over in just a few days. He was a dashing young man, full of potential, wisdom, and beauty. How she can ever move on and forget, she did not know.
On her way back to her room, she found a note stuck in between the doors. She took it and opened the doors, slipping inside the room. On one face of the folded-up paper, her name was written.
A note from Crisostomo.
She felt her heart skip a beat.
With shaking, hurried hands, she unfolded the piece of paper.
Japan has enchanted me. The beautiful scenery, the flowers, the trees, and the inhabitants–so peaceful, so courteous, and so pleasant. O-Sei-San, Sayonara, Sayonara! I have spent a happy golden month; I do not know if I can have another one like that in all my life. Love, money, friendship, appreciation, honors–these have not been wanting.
To think that I am leaving this life for the uncertain, the unknown. There I was offered an easy way to live, beloved and esteemed.
To you I dedicate the final chapter of these memoirs of my youth. No woman, like you has ever loved me. No woman, like you has ever sacrificed for me. Like the flower of the chodji that falls from the stem fresh and whole without falling leaves or without withering –with poetry still despite its fall–thus you fell. Neither have you lost your purity nor have the delicate petals of your innocence faded–Sayonara, Sayonara!
You shall never return to know that I have once more thought of you and that your image lives in my memory; and undoubtedly, I am always thinking of you. Your name lives in the sight of my lips, your image accompanies and animates all my thoughts. When shall I return to pass another divine afternoon like that in the temple of Maguro? When shall the sweet hours I spent with you return? When shall I find them sweeter, more tranquil, more pleasing? You the color of the camellia, its freshness, its elegance…
Ah! Last descendant of a noble family, faithful to an unfortunate vengeance, you are lovely like…everything has ended! Sayonara, Sayonara!
She folded back the paper and closed her eyes, listening to the ambient sounds around her, letting time and space swallow her loneliness. Exactly a week from now, she would be introduced to the man her father wanted her to marry. She knew this would be happening, and Ibarra was her bittersweet escape from the sick reality that she never really had a choice. She might have to marry sooner than she would have hoped, but now she knew she had a reason to have this unwanted wedding delayed.
She would be waiting for Ibarra’s return, even though he never had left any promises of coming back. She would be waiting, and only when she is finally certain that he has learned to forget her will she marry someone else.
* * *
Crisostomo Ibarra was back on the seas, now on his way to Europe. There he stood on the ship, looking out in the open, watching the seas grow wider in front of him. Slowly he got farther away from Japan, where he left the woman named Yuka. In love he might have grown, but he knew he had a responsibility to his country he could not simply leave. His country weighed more than personal interest, he kept repeating to himself. Yuka became his novocaine, but the numbness had to wear off soon. He needed his pain to serve as his guide. Gazing at the seas, he accepted his fate of staying lonely for the sake of his plans of avenging his brethren. In due time, he shall return to the Philippines and fulfill his plans. Now he was left to wonder, should the time finally arrive and he has come back from Europe, what might happen when he finally meets Maria Clara once again.
This story was written to serve as an interquel for Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. “Northeastern Novocaine” tells the story of Crisostomo Ibarra as a reimagining of Rizal’s reported experiences in Japan. The letter in this story is an alteration of Rizal’s own letter to his Japanese lover, O-Sei-San.