As she walked to the cafeteria, Miss Mijares thought how she could easily have said, Please wait for me, or will you wait for me? But years of working for the placement section had dulled the edges of her instinct for courtesy. She spoke now peremtorily, with an abruptness she knew annoyed the people about her.
When she talked with the jobless across her desk, asking them the damning questions that completed their humiliation, watching pale tongues run over dry lips, dirt crusted handkerchiefs flutter in trembling hands, she was filled with an impatience she could not understand. Sign here, she had said thousands of times, pushing the familiar form across, her finger held to a line, feeling the impatience grow at sight of the man or woman tracing a wavering "X" or laying the impress of a thumb. Invariably, Miss Mijares would turn away to touch the delicate edge of the handkerchief she wore on her breast.
Where she sat alone at one of the cafeteria tables, Miss Mijares did not look 34. She was slight, almost bony, but she had learned early how to dress herself to achieve an illusion of hips and bosom. She liked poufs and shirrings and little girlish pastel colors. On her bodice, astride or lengthwise, there sat an inevitable row of thick camouflaging ruffles that made her look almost as though she had a bosom, if she bent her shoulders slightly and inconspicuously drew her neckline open to puff some air into her bodice.
Her brow was smooth and clear and she was always pushing off it the hair she kept in tight curls at night. She had thin cheeks, small and angular, falling down to what would have been a nondescript, receding chin, but Nature's hand had erred and given her a jaw instead. When displeased, she had a lippy, almost sensual pout, surprising on such a small face.
So while not exactly an ugly woman, she was no beauty. She teetered precariously on the border line to which belonged countless others who you found, if they were not working at some job, in the kitchen of some married sister's house shushing a brood of devilish little nephews.
And yet Miss Mijares did think of love. Secret, short-lived thoughts flitted through her mind in the jeepneys she took to work when a man pressed down beside her and through her dress she felt the curve of his thigh; when she held a baby in her arms, a married friend's baby or a relative's, holding in her hands the tiny, pulsing body, what thoughts did she not think, her eyes straying against her will to the bedroom door and then to her friend's laughing, talking face, to think: how did it look now, spread upon a pillow, unmasked of the little wayward coquetries, how went the lines about the mouth and beneath the eyes: (did they close? did they open?) in the one final, fatal coquetry of all? to finally, miserably bury her face in the baby's hair. And in the movies, to sink into a seat as into an embrace, in the darkness with a hundred shadowy figures about her and high on the screen, a man kissing a woman's mouth while her own fingers stole unconsciously to her unbruised lips.
When she was younger, there had been other things to do--- college to finish, a niece to put through school, a mother to care for.
She had gone...