Friday, February 03, 2017

Thinking of the Cats

When I came home last month, I was glad that some cats still managed to survive without me, thanks to the care of T. I was glad to greet Muffin when she came home very late from where ever it was in the neighborhood she was roaming.  But it’s only now, when I’m back here in Makati, that I realized I never really had the chance to go nearer and talk to the cats. 
Muffin, like most of the cats at home, had gone feral, anyway, so it was not a good idea to cuddle her. The last time I cuddled Muffin, she bit my hands, thinking perhaps it was part of the play.  She wasn’t aware that I was not a cat. But looking back now, I could have at least talked to Muffin. I could have at least watched her beautiful eyes, which reminded me of the   eyes of a priest or a general, the bright yellow discs in the midst of a pitch black fur that earned her the moniker, Batman Cat.
Now, I'm missing her.  
My mind was preoccupied with everything on my short stay home.  It was full of Upper B’la and its depressing condition. 
I was also moping over the loss of Oreo, who failed to return home weeks before my arrival. Titing told me Oreo failed to return home a week before her sister-in-law poisoned Titing’s cat and the cats in the neighborhood. I’m wondering if Oreo happened to wander in their area, as cats often do, and had unwittingly eaten the poisoned food they had prepared.
Oreo was a good cat. Three days before Pope Francis arrived in Manila, some boys had left three kittens at the door of the Inquirer office in Davao. That afternoon, some “rugby boys” were rounded up by the police and I was sad because those might be the boys I caught feeding the kittens.  
Isn't it the height of cruelty for the police to round up the boys who had the heart to feed the cats? Some school girls from Kapitan Tomas eventually found the cats, and one fetched a carton box to bring them home during dismissal time, but minutes after she was off carrying the carton of cats, we saw an angry woman accompanying her, furiously asking her to put the kittens back to where she picked them up.  We saw them at our office door. The angry mother said her daughter cannot keep the cats because she had asthma, but I did not believe her.
Three days before Pope Francis talked about mercy and compassion, I carried the three noisy kittens in a jeepney and realized you can actually tell the character of people by the way they treat a cat.  A woman who sat beside me, I eventually learned, had thrown numerous kittens in rivers and across Samal Island. The young guy across my seat found the kitten yucky though he did not want to show it.  But a skinny, middle aged man, gently called the cats, Miiing, Miiing.
Among the three cats, the yellow one we later called HenriMatisse was the survivor, for he voraciously ate the giniling I bought from the store to feed them; then, the black one we later called Oreo, awoke from her carton slumber and joined the yellow one.  The one who did not take interest in food, and which I initially thought was dying, was the grey kitten we later called Eponine.
Eponine, who proved to be the most intelligent among the three, did not survive when he was hit by a slamming door during a Low Pressure Area (LPA) wind in February 2015.  HenriMatisse, the cutest and the most human among the three, I left alone in B’la at the height of Pa’s ailment in Davao.  I always get this image of him, sniffing Oreo inside the catbag, trying to help Oreo out. I should have put him inside the bag, too, but I realized he’s been surviving well in the village, and bringing him along might disrupt the good adjustment he was having in the place. So, I carried Oreo all the way back to Davao, where Oreo pissed on my pants when we reached R. Castillo. I never found HenriMatisse after that and I've been aching for a yellow cat with an L-shaped tail ever since, that cat who once glided the terrace of a neighbor, perked his ears when he saw me, and had bounded the whole neighborhood distance in three leaps when I called his name.
Ja described Oreo as a cat no one could ever love, except me.  In fact, it was because Oreo was that kind of cat that precisely drew her to me.  But Ja was only looking at the color of the cat, which was black, with irregular splotches of yellow in between.  The yellow spots above her eyes made Ja want to get his black pentel pen to cover the spots with black paint.  But Oreo, just like the other cats, is endowed with grace of movement and an elegance innate to all cats.  She was also full of cat wisdom and intelligence. She became pregnant months after the Pope’s visit and triggered a cat population explosion in our struggling household.  What was funny and amazing about Oreo was she never mind feeding three generations of kittens on her breast at the same time, even if her milk was already drying out. 

This simple tribute is not enough to describe such a great cat as Oreo.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Greet the Rooster!

I just can't get over the idea of Pam's herb garden on the 14th floor, where I spent the New Year hiding inside her room. As I thank the Monkey for an exhilarating year, I make friends with the Rooster to make this year a happier, healthier, more magickal one; but please, let us all survive this year, Rooster!  Give us your wisdom, your discernment, your talent; especially your unique way of turning up something when normally other creatures can't see anything! Give us that power to look and to see and to find the way out of anything that could constrain or oppress us.

Happier Times with Muffin

Yes, of course, but not really. Its properties showed that the picture was taken on December 31, 2015, no longer a happy time for the family but a really difficult and trying time. But it was quite a holiday for Muffin, who found the empty chocolate cake box a perfect place to rest.  She still had a lot of food to eat at that time, even if Pa, sick and bedridden, occupied all our attention. But eventually, Pa had to be rushed to the hospital, then, Eve moved him to the city, leaving the house empty most of the time; and Muffin and the rest of the cats pining for survival, except for Titing who continued to feed them! Now, I'm suddenly here in another part of the country, quite too far away. When can I ever go home to feed the cats?

White Abundant Light for Pa

I'm here on the second floor of this crowded fast food chain at a table directly facing the stairway, so that all the customers carrying their food-laden trays had to make eye-contact with me before they turn to the rows of tables to my left and eat in peace.  But it's very cozy here, a place conducive to writing (at least, to me), with a white ceiling light beaming directly above me and falling gloriously down upon my table. I plan to spend an hour or two here because I was told we have visitors at home and I don't feel like meeting people now that I'm fiercely craving to write--it's maddening, this desire to write is like demons to be appeased, you have to satisfy them because if you don't, you'd either die, get sick or go mad--but I don't expect anyone who has never experienced that to ever understand.
But the way the light falls upon my notebook page on this table reminds me of the white light at the hospital room where Pa used to spend time during his ailment. That was before the sisters whisked him off to Butuan with Ma. 
It was the largest and the most comfortable room in our hometown hospital, designed by a renowned architect who was the owner's son, with windows from floor to ceiling, and overlooking McArthur highway, where you can see buses, trucks and jeepneys on their way to Davao or Cotabato or the smaller towns in between.
The room, if you'd care to know, does not make you think of a hospital at all, with its abundance of light, and its plenitude of space, its tasteful curtains, which you can whisk away if you want to see the view, or whisk back if you don't, because you prefer the subdued light that can make you rest and relax.
The nurses, when they find you, are not as snotty there as they might be in the other rooms; they might even be a lot friendlier!  Pa and Ma and I were sitting there, looking out as we awaited the sisters coming home from Butuan the day Pa's ailment seemed to be at its worst and Pa, who was suddenly amiable and meek as a child, had been calling the name of his mother, in between moans of pain, in between the state of waking and unwaking.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Like Life Itself

It's the stairway I climb everyday. Just like life itself, it goes round and round and round in a never ending spiral. 
Yet, every time I climb it in the morning, I don't actually see it the way I'm seeing it now.  In the morning, I take it only one step at a time. All I see are the nearest steps before me, and the rails leading me to a slowly curving ascent, so slight and so gradual that I almost could not feel it. It's only upon looking down from the nth floor above that I get a glimpse of its shape below. Just like the series of days and nights that eventually form the seasons, and the seasons that gather into a year and the years that eventually form a lifetime, we hardly perceive them at first until we've gone a long way and we start looking back.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dawn Mass

On the first day of the Misa de Gallo, I succeeded in dragging Nanay V. to hear the dawn mass at the Santa Ana church, which was quite far, but not too far from where we live in Makati. It was still dark when we arrived. The mass had not started yet but most of the seats in front, where I can get an almost magical view of the altar, were already occupied. Nanay dragged me to one of the last remaining seats at the back, where we managed to sneak our not so tiny bodies in a crowded pew. The church, old as it is, is rather small by modern standard, but look at its design and architecture! Think about how, at the height of the bombardment in Manila in the second world war, a mass of people had once flocked into this church to seek refuge. Outside, the statue of the Lady of the Abandoned beckoned.
How  I came to live here and knew about this church was a series of serendipitous encounters.  In 2011, I came upon a Palanca-winning essay about life in an old horserace track before the property owner finally caved in to the pressures of development. I set aside that essay for a while and moved on with my life until late this year, when I was called to work here.  Trying to figure out where and how I'd live, I traced the map with my fingers, ignoring Ja's voice behind me telling me I'd be living very near the old race track in Makati. Ja used to know the capital like the palm of his hand. Long after I arrived and already sleeping in my room, I can still hear Ja's voice faintly reverberating in my ears but I continued to ignore it. 
Until one day,  diligently thumbing through the stories in the Arts and Letters section, I was drawn to a particular story which had caught my eye.  It was a book of the author who wrote about the old race track! I started reading and came upon the old church on the Old Panaderos Street.
Days later, I came to meet an old timer who, as a young journalist, used to haunt the old race track for stories and who personally knew the writer of the old race track herself! 
We had dinner at the Makati Circuit, site of the old race track! Sometimes, when I think about these serendipitous encounters, I feel some magical forces working. I did not come here entirely on my own.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dear Karl and Sean

I'm in the city of stone carabaos. I realized this as soon as I saw the beautiful creatures lining here in front of me, black as charcoal, not the muddy black of real carabaos we passed by the rice fields in Kialeg, but dark-night black, the whole clan of them, from baby carabaos to mother carabaos, artistically rendered, slim and shapely and in style in a garden fronting the bookstore, where I walked a good seven kilometers to find.  Walking for me here is an art of reclaiming the space I have lost, and the sight of stone carabaos reminds me of the flock I once had a glimpse of, as I was passing by Liguasan Marsh on my way home from a coverage. I saw a flock of 10 to 20 of them, all working carabaos and all of the same size, looking small against the expanse of the Marsh landscape.  It was the peak of the planting season and the scene was something that Ja would have described as a  David Lean's rendition of a landscape. I was in a bus.  I haven't seen a flock of carabaos that many occupying the same landscape before, that's why, it fascinated me.  
In the rice fields of Kialeg, only one or two carabaos can be seen at a given time, no matter how the town boasts of itself as the province's rice granary.  But we, too, do not live in Kialeg.  We are just passing by, no matter how much I call it my home.
As a journalist, the Marsh has fascinated me in both its scale and its vastness; and although it may not have known me, I feel the Marsh is part of me because it is part of the entire landscape I call my home. I will always be attuned to its ramblings. 
Here,  the stone carabaos stand un-moving for hours, even as the gardener turns on the sprinklers to water the rosemary, the tarragons and the grasses around their unfeeling hooves. I remember the herbs I planted at home and the angle of light by the window which always made me want to read. I think of the cats, and the space I left behind. I think of you.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday while I’m trying to do some washing

I hear someone belting your Nonoy Zuniga songs in the neighborhood. In one of the houses, though I can’t tell which one, the man’s voice drifts, singing the lyrics in raw Tagalog. The voice is a mellifluous one, which, when scaling the high notes, tends to fade. I've become keenly aware of the ravages of time and broken dreams in the singer's voice.  This is my second Sunday here. I am inside a tall black gate that protected us from the neighborhood. To our right somewhere, as we come out the gate, lies the bank of the Pasig river.  I can see the grime-covered skinny feet of children playing outside the fence. I remember how, back home, we would look forward to our songs by now. Sean has outgrown us lately, so there's only the two of us to drop by the Booksale first to find some old copies of Harper's or The New Yorker. Then, we would take a seat at the nearest KFC, where you would take out the notes containing our song numbers, reviewing them one by one, while I read the magazines. Now, I'm here alone, watching the video of you singing Paul Anka’s Times of your Life on my phone. I see very clearly now how your shoulders sag, and how your chest heave deeply as you gulp for breath in between your song lines. I want to go home.

Friday, November 04, 2016

This one, I’d surely miss

Cordoned off the seats reserved for government officials and priests, we were huddled in a small corner near the speakers, I, trying my best to stretch the limited capacity of my camera to capture the scene unfolding before me. When I told them I’ve been scolded by the PSG for going over the line to get a closer picture of the marble tablet etched with the names of those who died, Boyax only smirked, rolled his eyes; while Keith looked up at the starless night. Their gestures told me they have totally resigned themselves to faith, they have stopped trying another trick, what can you expect?  As we crouched over, reviewing our shots, Boyax had helped me find the good ones that would do and the bad ones that had to be discarded. Kill your babies, as Ja used to say. 
Then, I began telling myself, this one, I’d surely miss.
My good old days pretending to be a photographer would soon be over. But in the past months—or a year or two that I’ve been doing it—had been a fruitful one. It was an apprenticeship of sort. I had had a lot of lessons on the job. Unlike sitting on the bench, scrawling notes, I loved being with the cameras, to be at the forefront of things as they happened, to frame events through the lens I was holding. I got shouted at, and shoved away,  at times, but it was part of the game. I loved to be among this ragged, throbbing crowd with all the equipment they carried and adored.
Once, at the height of the campaign, failing to get myself in the middle of the action, I had shouted my questions from under the tripod (it was that crowded), still aiming through with my camera. The would-be President had to look up and down the jungle of bodies, limbs and equipment to answer my questions.
I often heard of the arrogance of some photographers against some newcomers.  But this crowd of photographers (where I felt I belonged) had readily welcomed me, allowed a small inch of space for me to stand, or crouch, in this too crammed world of photojournalism.
Then, I stopped bringing my camera. It proved too bulky, I’m afraid, in situations which demanded from me agility and lightness; situations that demanded most of the strength left in my weakening body. Covering the president has always been an exhausting job that requires us to stand for very long hours, skip meals, write stories on the phone, as fast as we can.
Soon, I may no longer be doing this anymore. I will always look back to my days among the photographers as one of the most memorable days of being a journalist. It allowed me new perspectives of telling stories; opened my eyes to a different medium, a medium that is more physical and more demanding of strength and alertness than the one I’ve been used to. 

It allowed me to be myself, to go against rules and conventions, to try new angles, new worldviews, and even get dirty, doing it.