The Coffee Table


    Arturo B. Rotor

Rotor’s Zita, to simply put, is a story about young girl who falls in love with her teacher while he teaches her how be a lady. Zita, the story’s namesake, comes home to tell her father, Don Eliodoro, about the new teacher who comes to her school. This event takes place after the speaker narrates the scene where Francisco B. Reteche, the teacher, is taken to Anayat by a fisherman named, Turong. Mr. Reteche is thought to be a strange person by the villagers who have become aware of his presence because of an aura of mystery that shrouds him – he chooses to live with Turong than in Don Eliodor’s house, and he does not give much care about where he stays, as long as he is able to go to school to teach.

Going back to the scene where Zita tells her father of her encounter with Mr. Reteche, she makes sure to highlight the moment when the teacher is baffled by Zita’s name. Though it was not stated why, it is implied that Mr. Reteche is troubled by Zita’s presence in the class. Don Eliodor then later comments that she should have private lessons with him on how to be a lady.

The first few weeks in Mr. Reteche’s stay with him, Turong gossips to the others how the newcomer does not sleep, does not eat much, and just sits by the window to brood by himself. Every month, there was a letter in a blue envelope with gold design on its upper left hand corner that came for him. And once, Turong delivered one of the letters to him in school. During that time, the students (including Zita) were asked to write a composition that expressed the things they love most. After collecting their papers, Mr. Reteche recited a very short piece about a moth which Zita thought was a poorly written composition. She was also upset that her composition was not chosen.

Despite this, Zita remains interested in the enigma that is Mr. Reteche. At the same time, she continues to learn from him, evident in her taking notes with the difficult vocabulary he speaks with. In the midst of the events that continue to unfold in the story (e.g. the villagers getting used to Mr. Reteche’s loner-type attitude), the reader discovers that the main female character of the story has fallen in love with her teacher. Then suddenly, as she stares out a window, Mr. Reteche comes to her house to tell her father that he accepts Don Eliodor’s request to teach Zita how to become a lady. Over the course of several weeks, the villagers notice a change in Mr. Reteche – he was not walking by the seashore alone anymore, and he was not interacting with the children of the village. Zita’s lessons on how-to-become-a-lady seem to progress over time as well – evident in a party scene where acts in the right way. Many gentlemen want to dance with her, but she has eyes only for one man who seems reluctant, and is bothered by the fact on how she looks so beautiful that night. Mr. Reteche and Zita share a moment as they both dance.

It is implied that a few days pass. Back in the classroom, Mr. Reteche once again receives a letter from Turong, and this time Zita witnesses how he tore it up to pieces right then and there. He tries to put them  back together, and answers Zita’s question on why he tore the letter only to put it back together again – it is something that she will understand someday. And sure enough, Turong comes home later from Paunambang, bringing a stranger whom the villagers take as someone related to Mr. Reteche because of the way he carries himself. This stranger pays Mr. Reteche a visit in the school , and the two discuss – as Zita eavesdrops on them – matters which gives implications of the events that were to happen the next day. It is morning and Zita anxiously receives a letter from Turong. Hurt, she quickly tears up the letter, only to try to piece it all back together, crying as a great understanding dawns upon her.

So besides the romance factor that this story by Rotor contains, I realized that the “something” between Zita and Mr. Reteche has, is “something” which exists even in the modern times – a teacher-student relationship. Well, Zita and Mr. Reteche are not technically in a relationship; however, any reader would notice the tension that Zita has towards Mr. Reteche, guided by the signs throughout the text. Although, I myself am not yet sure how old Mr. Reteche actually is. Come to think of it, why was he bothered by Zita’s presence in the classroom in the beginning of the story? After discussing the story in the classroom – which was why I couldn’t put up this post last Tuesday, for fear of insufficient analysis – I learned that there were actually two Zita’s in the Rotor’s story! ( ; ゚Д゚) No wonder Mr. Reteche was so bothered when he came across the name of Zita (the student) in his class list. But to be honest, in my own humble opinion, I think that part was kind of misleading. Not that I didn’t want Mr. Reteche to react at all; I understand that that’s one of the vital parts of the story that makes it clear that there are two Zitas. Perhaps, he should’ve said something like, “Everywhere, she’s everywhere…” – that would imply Mr. Reteche’s sensitivity towards his issue with his lady-love who was coincidentally named, Zita, as well. The impression that that part of the line in the story gave me was that Zita (the student) was Mr. Reteche’s long lost daughter by a woman whom he had an affair with some years ago. Either that or Mr. Reteche and Zita both share a past relationship wherein the latter had an amnesia as she had forgotten that Mr. Reteche was her lover.

Yeah. That was what I thought. Thank goodness we had that discussion in class!ヽ(^∀^  )ノ  Anyhow, I guess I shouldn’t be telling how the story should go. After all, it was the imagination of the genius, Arturo B. Rotor, who made all the events here possible. It’s probably best that I stay in the background for awhile, learn from the “masters,” and try to read more carefully between the lines.

But before I end this post, I’d like to share something a significant symbol that I came across in the story’s structure – that moth which can be found in the part of the story wherein Mr. Reteche had his students write a composition in which he would choose the best one. Zita was anxious for her work to be read by him, but unfortunately, Mr. Reteche didn’t. In fact, Zita thought that there was no one in the class who wrote such pointless and incomprehensible composition:

“I didn’t know any better. Moths are not supposed to know; they only come to the light. And the light looked so inviting, there was no resisting it. Moths are not supposed to know, one does not even know one is a moth until one’s wings are burned.”

First of all, the fact that, assuming from an implication, Mr. Reteche did not actually read anything he found worthy to read from his students’ composition, reveals that underneath the enigmatic and brooding figure, his emotions connected to the other Zita are turbulent and find an outlet every now and then. Mr. Reteche speaking something which is somewhat irrelevant to his students’ works also show that he understands what has ensued in his life. The moth is none other than Mr. Reteche himself, relating the ignorance of the moth, and its unfortunate fate of meeting with the light (who is the woman Zita, or the feelings surrounding his image of her) and having its wings burned (perhaps Mr. Reteche’s pride or dignity that ‘raises him up’ as a person). Upon realizing the symbolism of this scene in the story, I have a better grasp of Mr. Reteche’s complicated character, and how lovelorn and tragic he thinks of himself is. “Zita” seems like an interesting piece to actually do a sequel on. I wonder, if I ever come across one in the near future, would the readers be able to see the real Zita, Mr. Reteche’s mysterious lady, as who she really is? That’d be awesome. Can’t. Wait.