Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why we cry

THERE’S a woman in the office who’s always crying.

I can’t see her but I can hear her. If she were like other women, who’ve learned to cry in silence so total they can pretend to themselves they’re not crying, it might be so much better.

The way this woman carries on, though, I’ve begun to think of her crying as her natural voice, the only way she has to let us know she’s around.

Like the women who weep mutely but talk volumes through their denial of sound, the woman can turn the dark and the silence of an office abandoned by workers for the day into any number of things she chooses: a hammer shattering the fog of preoccupations or a sliver of cold whetted against the nape, slowly, cruelly, with a lover’s strokes.

I am here, that sobbing declares in a room that’s just chairs, tables, cabinets.

Listen to me.

I once found it odd that to the guards and other male tenants, she is an altogether different woman. She is petty, quick to take offense, spiteful: the flushing of toilets in the middle of the night; the restless treading echoing from a dim, empty stairwell; long black strands of hair stopping up a men’s toilet.

The night shift guard steps out of the building into the cold of the night when she carries on too loud or too long. This must goad her, this masculine reflex at self-protection. Light a cigarette. Raise a wall of smoke between one and the spitting creature. Wait. Wait for the ill humor to consume itself.

An engineer saw her, in uniform, walk between him and the guard who was guiding him around the basement. The two men did not stop in their talking. Only when they went up to the office and the engineer looked around for that rude employee did he realize that he didn’t see her face. His basement companion never saw her walk between them.

I compare the men’s delayed acknowledgment to the women’s. Working to finish some documents in a near deserted office, a secretary is transfixed by a weeping stranger, her crouched figure framed against the library walls. An applicant, waiting for her turn in a late evening interview, hears keening rising from the pool of dark in front of her. When she emerges out of the building, the woman breaks into tears.

Do I do her a disservice by thinking of her only as damned to wander in the wilderness of her desolation? In life, a woman cries for many reasons: in ecstasy, pain, relief, exultation, anger, exhaustion, inarticulateness, helplessness, bliss, acceptance, fear, loss. Why oversimplify tears when these cannot be touched or tasted?

What we can’t explain, we stereotype. We poke around the building’s history, sifting for some tragedy, a calamity on the scale of the human that can explain the thread of woe that stretches this woman between our plane and the other.

Was she a victim? Perhaps this explains her low regard for men, the tinkering with the anal, the tricks, the sudden crashes that drive the men to seek refuge behind a glowing cigarette and a screen of macho cool.

A woman’s tears make a man nervous, goes the popular wisdom. I knew someone so reduced by a weeping woman, he had to succor every lady crying on his shoulder by taking her to his bed. Or so he said in our company while his wife smiled, a thin brittle line that reminded me of dots you had to connect to find the secret escape.

On days when I cannot hear but sense her, I ask her if she sometimes tires of crying. All that overflowing must drain any source. As one woman to another, I coax her to leave the unwashed dishes on the pantry, the unflushed toilet, the desk with the unfinished deadlines.

Go out. Have a life. There’s more than one reason to cry.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 13, 2011 issue of the Sunday column, “Matamata”

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