Thursday, October 28, 2010

The doctor is sick

I tried to make out the expression of her face as she sat silhouetted against the glass door. But the glare from the street outside hurt my eyes. All I could see was the shape of her hair falling on her shoulders and half her body leaning against a chair. Her voice was sad and clinical, as if she was explaining a surgical procedure. “The lumads—once they get pregnant, they already half-expect to die,” she continued in a monotone. “Yet, when everybody talks about the Reproductive Health Bill, nobody thinks about the lumads.”
For a moment, I swore she was only talking to herself. But she was facing me, gesturing with her hands. She tilted her head slightly up, so that the light caught briefly the outline of her nose and eyes. She was a doctor. Her profession trained her only to deal with the coldness of empirical facts.
I squinted. The sun outside was harsh. It was hot, something they blame on global warming. Perhaps, if I had only moved closer to where she was, I could have seen some anguish—or anger—on her face. Perhaps, I could have established a human connection. Perhaps, I could have understood better what she was talking about. But I was a little farther away and I could only see her shadow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Please remember everything!

Where were you on January 2, four years ago?
I tried asking you but you can’t remember.
Is it only the mind that forgets? Or, is it the heart?
Is it because we did nothing significant that day that the date simply slipped off our memory for good?
We must still have been living in that rented house with a red gate, numbered 72, along McArthur Highway, the house that Sean thought was our own to the chagrin of the real owner. It was the house that Ja, your stepdad, described as a garage because the owner used to park their rusty old sedan and a new van just outside our front door window. It was a house that I remember with horror and helplessness because the bedroom where we used to sleep had no window and the other room, where you used to draw and be alone, used to have windows that looked out to a stove in the open kitchen of the other house. That window was eventually overshadowed by ugly granite when the owner built another extension to their house.
It was a perfect trap, that house. It was built only as an afterthought.
First of all, I’m not very good at dates. I couldn’t remember the exact day I met your father or when exactly America first attacked Iraq, but I can still picture his eyes and the way that his shirt revealed the curves of his shoulders. Just as I had clear pictures on my mind of Operation Desert Storm on the pages of Newsweek magazine on the magazine rack of the Recoletos library; and then, of Typhoon Ruping, afterwards, when the entire city went dead and we had to hunt for bread and canned goods out on Colon street because there was nothing to eat in the entire Tsa Elim dormitory. I still can remember the exact day when you arrived, the dress I was wearing, the look of panic in your father’s eyes, the exhilaration and the long hours of struggle before that. It was a day that changed my life, so, I can’t believe I can’t remember anything on January 2, 2006, when you turned 13. I remember meeting towards the end of that year another 13 year old boy whose mother and father were killed on the street of Kidapawan in broad daylight; and I immediately took to him because I was thinking of you.
If I could not remember where I was on January 2 four years ago, it was not because I had forgotten you. I’m sure I was shuttling to and from Davao city and hometown again, desperate, as usual; trying to cope with the crazy demands of the holidays and jobs. Maybe, it was the Christmas I lost Sean’s biplanes along with his medicines and other toys in a small backpack in the bus, because deep inside, I was crumbling. The holidays always required me to spend the money that I didn’t have and I was always thinking that I wasn’t good enough for you.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Missing Kwin Dukduk

In times like these, one could not help missing Kwin Dukduk. She’s an intense young woman who fiercely believes in what she says and would often arrive with lots of egg pie from Goldilocks to give when she’s terribly upset about something.
At least, Kwin Dukduk is sharp.
I missed her today when the sun was at its zenith, and somebody started talking about the discarded bag of a boxer’s wife selling at P120,000 or more. Actually, I did not have anything against the boxer’s wife or her discarded bag (which Ylevol said was Chanel and did not interest me at all). But somebody insisted that if the boxer’s wife only lived abroad, she could have been selling her discarded bags or panties for a million dollars and everybody would be crazy enough to buy them.
I was not surprised at all by that stupid display of absurdity and decadence. Just like everybody else I’ve been used to it, but I couldn’t help opening my mouth because I know of somebody who sold his old camera seven times its purchase price by bestowing upon it some historical value no brand new camera could ever have. (It was Jamil!)
Didn’t we learn enough that the market has always been susceptible to some idiosyncratic twists and turns just because such thing as 'market value' has oftentimes been dictated by perception? And that, perceptions going awry, with all the overvaluations and undervaluation in between, had precipitated numerous historical crashes in the stock market and the world economy, looking back to the early part of this century alone, including the most recent global financial meltdown? I know that if Kwin Dukduk were here before me, she would vehemently nod her head and say, "The market is such a cold-blooded idiot. It has no heart at all," and then, because this thought itself would upset her, she’d turn the computer's volume up and break into a song by Susan Vega!
One could not help missing Kwin Dukduk. Every time I was with her, I always felt I could turn the world upside down and still emerge as winner.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Letter to Sean

I was thinking of you when I got a glimpse of the waves of Lianga from the car on the road. I never knew that waves could gallop like that. But there they were, right before my eyes, galloping like horses at the back of thatched structures that served as the public market. It was raining and the people I was with in Lianga were taking lunch at an eatery that displayed gigantic fresh crabs, fresh catfish and octopuses that reminded me of the tentacles of the kraken in the Pirates of the Caribbean. I never stopped thinking of you even for a while. When I saw the kraken’s tentacles on the plate, I wanted to shout “The Flying Dutchman!” the way we do it at home, taking in a scared look before breaking into our long hard laugh that continue to amaze the neighbors.
I told the people of Lianga I felt like a cannibal eating the kraken. They were telling me some people sometimes come down from the mountains to flee the fighting and stay in the gym for days.
Braving the rain, I went out of the eatery to take pictures of the galloping waves, intending to frame them against the dark shadows of the thatched huts.
But I discovered when I got closer, that my camera could not capture the terrifying texture of the waves before my eyes. Within the thatched huts were women persuading me to buy the fish they were selling. I aimed my shot at the gleaming bodies of their fish, instead.
It was a terrifyingly ugly shot because it was made as a compromise. I’m sure that people who would happen to take a look at it someday would wonder about the senselessness of the whole shot and would harshly judge me for taking it.
As you grow older, you would know how to be true to what is in your heart. Once you set out to take pictures of the waves, by all means, do it whatever it takes, and don’t stop to take pictures of krakens.