El Fili Chapter 6: Basilio

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It is almost time for Christmas Eve midnight mass when Basilio secretly makes his way to the forest previously owned by the Ibarra family. He does not want anyone to see him.

Recall that thirteen years had passed since he buried his mother, Sisa, in that same forest. Thirteen years ago, he was hunted as a fugitive along with his brother Crispin (now dead). In the Noli Me Tangere, Padre Salvi was after these two sacristans. In the El Fili, Padre Salvi still wields considerable power.

No wonder Basilio needs to keep his past a secret.

In the forest is a stream, near which is a small hill, beyond which was a space enclosed by crumbling walls. In the center of this is a balete tree, and near it is a pile of stones–Sisa’s unmarked grave.

Basilio painfully remembers that night thirteen years ago when Sisa did not recognize him (she was out of her mind at that time). She died in the forest and a stranger (Elias?) came and ordered Basilio to build a funeral pyre. When Basilio came back with the wood, he saw yet another stranger (Ibarra?); the first stranger had died.

This second stranger helped Basilio place the dead stranger on the pyre and also helped Basilio bury his mother, Sisa. He also gave Basilio some money.

Basilio remembers leaving the forest for Manila, where he served in Capitan Tiago’s home. Instead of being paid a salary, his tuition was paid for instead. Capitan Tiago took him in because the old man was depressed — that was the day Maria Clara entered the nunnery.

(It was common at that time for those wishing to study to serve as household help if they didn’t have funds for tuition. Apolinario Mabini had to do this. What about you? Count yourself fortunate.)

Imagine Basilio, in his first year of Latin, wearing bakya (wooden clogs). Students avoided the poorly-attired Basilio. Even his teachers didn’t ask him to participate in classroom discussions. Of course he felt terrible and alone, and often cried atop his mother’s grave.

Yet somehow Basilio passed school, through sheer memory work. It’s amazing how he managed to motivate himself in a class size of about 400 students, only 40 of which were called to recite. Those not called by the teacher felt relieved.

(Looks like things haven’t changed in 400 years, right? Anyway, Rizal makes a dig at education here: all you needed to do was memorize stuff and you were sure to pass.)

In Basilio’s third year, a Dominican teacher decided to make fun of him. Basilio, however, was able to answer sensibly and the embarrassed teacher never called on Basilio again. (Basilio understood Spanish and therefore could not be turned into a class stooge.)

One of the professors got into a fight with some cadets. Basilio, in defense of the professor, participated in the duel of canes and sabers.

He survived and went on to graduate with good grades and medals. Nope, it wasn’t purely due to his fencing skills; he was also a diligent student. Capitan Tiago convinced Basilio to transfer to the Ateneo.

The different educational system amazed Basilio. (Whether Rizal, a product of Jesuit education, is just being biased here is debatable.)

Anyway, Basilio took up medicine. While Capitan Tiago first wanted him to take up law (so that Tiago can have legal services for free), he accepted Basilio’s choice. Tiago was interested in getting the blood of some Chinese who died of venereal disease–perhaps medical students like Basilio could get hold of it so that Tiago can smear the metal gaffs of his fighting cocks with poisoned blood.

(Strange. Why didn’t he simply use rat poison?)

In Basilio’s third year at medical school, he started to cure people. This provided him with funds for savings and for elegant clothes.

Basilio healed a leper who gave him a locket in payment. Recall that that locket was given by Maria Clara when she saw the leper begging in the streets. That locket will be given by Basilio to Juliana.

(During this time, people believed that leprosy is contagious and could not be cured. Perhaps Rizal believed otherwise.)

Enough of the flashback… So Basilio is in the forest. He is in his last year of studies and will be a physician in a couple of months. He plans to retire in his hometown and to marry his sweetheart Juliana.

We see here a reversal of fortunes: the boy who used to wander the streets, dirty, unkempt and disdained by society, is now about to become a respected physician.

In fact, he had been selected to deliver the valedictory address — a message, not about himself, but about the needy students of the future.

What a way to make his first mark in the world, right?

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