Friday, December 02, 2011

In Fairness to God

I had struck a friendship with God sometime in our Reporting on Religion Class at the Asian Center for Journalism when Dr. Eric Loo in Sydney, Australia and Mr. Anwar Mustafa in Malaysia had asked us to do a profile of a noted religious leader for Christmas. I was in Davao, trying to find an Islamic leader for the story, but since the deadline was very close and I realized I still had so many things to learn about Islam, I decided as Christmastime approached, to track down God in a parish in Cotabato, where he had been saying mass at dawn in a remote village that was always in the headlines of newspapers because of the frequency of armed encounters between government soldiers and New People’s Army guerillas.
God’s story towards the end of the Martial Law years was both tragic and shocking but just a few months before I set our meeting, the convicted man out to kill him towards the tail-end of the Marcos regime was freed and the man went to him to say he was sorry. They both went to light candles on the grave of someone the convicted man had killed in God's place.
It took some time before I could find someone who could give me God’s contact numbers but with the help of friends I did; and when I called him, he was open to meeting a stranger and asked me to come meet him near the white statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a Sunday morning that week.
I hurriedly prepared for the trip because as usual there were simply so many things to fix at home during my absence. God had not yet arrived when I got there so I had plenty of time to compose my questions and to orient myself. When his old blue Isuzu pick up pulled up, I saw a tall, thin, fragile-looking figure getting off and walking towards me.
He led me to his office, where a yellow Royal typewriter sat on the shelf full of other documents. He asked me about my religion; and for a while, I was tongue-tied.
I had declared in class I was an “agnostic” and a “free thinker,” next to Jana from East Germany who declared she was an aetheist. The rest of our classmates said they were Roman Catholics; like Lilik from Jakarta or Bryant from Bulacan or even Debbie; or Muslim, like Yuri and Kurniawan, from Jakarta; or Buddhist married to a Hindu but who grew up under the tutelage of Irish nuns who taught her to pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Rosary, like my dearest roomate Pratish from Kathmandu. Mukund Pandabhan, our professor for Media Law, had once asked me to define what a free thinker was and he did not give me any trouble with my definition.
But when God asked me where I got that notion of being a free thinker, he quickly put me back to the 18th or was it 17th century when the enlightenment and rationalism swept over Europe. “Jesus Christ is even more of a free thinker than you are!” God quipped, irritated, knocking his holy fingers onto my forehead.
God had taught History in a US seminary years before he was sent to the Philippines, where he ended up at the heart of Tondo on the eve of Martial Law. He remembered that the first mass he ever said here in this country was done inside a prison cell.
I first caught sight of God towards the end of my adolescent years which also coincided with my activism years when a friend pointed to me the first European I saw who could speak Ilonggo. He was fascinating to look at: a towering figure surrounded by lumad children who took their turn kissing his hands. In his book which recounted his trip from the Marco Polo airport to Manila, he noted what the Filipino tradition of kissing hands meant because the practice was quite new to him at that time, a source of his fascination. But now, surrounded by lumad children, I could swear he already looked like one of them if not for his skin.
He also noted with surprise how Filipinos loved to worship all those European-looking saints who peopled the Church’s altars.
Some of the images still stuck with me after that trip: God leading me inside a sooty kitchen, where he shared the offerings of the morning mass with the children, his old cellphone and its faded numbers, the old jacket he wore. How lovingly he brushed aside the dry leaves that littered the grave of a friend killed when God was hunted down by the killers and was nowhere to be found.
Back in his office, as he complained about the volume of paper works he had to deal with that week, as he crouched upon the stack of papers on his desk to find that document that could answer my questions, I was struck by how fragile and delicate God has become.
Maybe some people would say the suffering of God was nothing compared to the suffering of people he had served—all those mass of humanity toiling under exploitatively low wages, tilling the land of the haciendas all their lives in exchange of measly pay, the subhuman condition working in the mines, in banana plantations and in factories, those persecuted for their political, ideological and religious beliefs.
But knowing how God, too, survived death threats all his life for doing what he got to do; and how he is fast giving in to age in a land far away from where he was born, I still felt humbled.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Caraga 2009

Traveling to Caraga feels like you’re on a graveyard shift. You know the feeling. You struggle to keep awake at 12:30 in the morning and watch your seven year old son march off to bed, drowsy after the last show on television, you dial up the taxi that will fetch you from home in Nova Tierra, near the mosque, you say; and then, when everybody is snuggling comfortably to bed you brave the cold slap of the early November breeze on your face as you board the taxi to the terminal. You found a convivial listener on the taxi driver, suddenly a companion in this dead hours of the night, when all the living are asleep and you are headed for the terminal to catch the first trip to the town you only knew by name from some old travel brochures that featured the oldest church in Mindanao, built here in the 1660s, as an outpost of the Spanish forces who failed to conquer the interior parts.
Inside the Ecoland terminal, people sleep on their folding beds (for rent, at P15 to P20), with their bags on their heads. It takes quite a few pages of Milan Kundera’s “Slowness” before the bus for Cateel (which will pass by Caraga) arrives at one o’clock. You go to the Bachelor bus driver bound for Mati, just to check and counter check. I’ve never been to Caraga before. I never knew where Cateel was. It’s a strange place for me. I wonder, what will greet you when you get there? I stared at the Cesar Montano’s face on the bright huge TM posters above the signs overboard. Mati, Cateel, etc. I glanced sideways at the vendor selling cold eggs, cigarettes by my side. I wiped and blew my stuffy nose and wondered how long can I bear this—not the stuffy nose—but this, being treated like this, a worker without right, without voice. I kept wondering what this—this being yanked out of your sleep at the most unholy hour of the night—had anything to do with writing??! Or, book editing for that matter? When the Cateel bus arrived, I asked the driver again, I asked everyone I could talk to. I was excited (and tired) to go to that old place, that old Spanish bastion, the only one they were able to hold in Mindanao. Then, somebody turned off the bus lights. Everyone claimed the seat as bed. The woman across my seat stretched her legs on the bus aisle even as she asked her companion (a male) where he had parked the car. Park where?! Aren’t they riding this bus? Then, I claimed another seat too, and lay down listening to The Campaign Trail on The NewYorker, for this was the time when Barrack Obama was still running for President. Then, a woman-a hefty one—came aboard grumbling because everyone has been making every bus seat his bed. I got up, asked the woman if she wanted my seat because I wanted the old seat across, but seeing that somebody had already occupied the seat I wanted, I returned to where I was sleeping.
A brief talk with the conductor, telling him I had a companion waiting at the terminal in Tagum, the first stop. Then, in Tagum, seeing Allan coming up the bus aisle in the dawning hours before the bus moved on again; and a few hours later, a drowsy glimpse of Mati, where they fix something of the bus engine. Snaking around the sneaky mountains of Caraga, I was reminded yet again that the place where nothing happens is also a place where everything happens. Away from the newspaper headlines, everything happens in Caraga. You knew all about it during breakfast of nilagang baka and fried talong in a rundown torotoro along the highway, people lining up the weather-beaten dirty counter, waiting for the steaming rice, grabbing a greasy table across a woman in her late fifties, her hair unkempt, her old printed duster had seen better days. She, too, would have been beautiful when she was young. I wonder what she’d seen in these places. Everyone was talking about some encounter between soldiers and the NPAs somewhere beyond the mountains. We will pass by Tarragona, the one included in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), Allan kept saying. Later, what I saw of Tarragona was an abandoned wooden shed and an empty public market, I wonder where the people are, what they’re doing at that time of the day. Maybe, sleeping??
When we reached Caraga terminal, I was already dead tired. All I wanted to do was plop down somewhere, bed or no bed at all, but everybody kept talking. Then, I realized sleep was still out of question. We still had a far way to go. We boarded a crazy motorcycle to a village called Pantuyan and waited and waited for the people who never arrived. They were trying to settle some dispute somewhere, trying to avert a “pangayao,” what do they call it, a tribal conflict? I slept on a bench. Somebody handed me a pillow. I slept until my stuffy nose was gone. When it was five o’clock, they said, it was time to go. We boarded a motorcycle that climbed up a newly scraped road. The soil was rocky and limey, like what I used to know in Argao, Cebu, my mother’s hometown. But when I glanced over my shoulder, I discovered we were already on top of the world, the ravines were the deepest I’ve ever seen, I’ve never been in a mountain as high as that and I did not even know its name. We were still climbing higher and higher to I don’t know where: Pluto, perhaps, Mercury or Mars? The motorcycle ahead of us went overboard, its passengers laughing. How could they laugh?! All around us were forest; a weather-beaten shack would appear once in a while, with people staring back at us. Except for that and the jungle, I saw nothing else. Later, much, much later, we followed another rugged, abandoned road. I thought, we were already close to the place where we were supposed to go. But later, I learned, we were still very far. The skylab climbed down and up the mountainous incline as high as 85 degrees. I was bowling over. It was a journey that never ends.
But later, I was struck as soon as I saw the place: a thriving Mandaya community surrounded by forests. Looking down the bluish haze of mountains and outlines of rivers far below, I said, this is heaven, this is the place where I belong, I’m not going out anymore.
But as it happens, I still did.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Being Mary

I resented it when Ja prevented me from getting a house help in the last seven years and now he flew into a rage because he said he was beginning to feel like a house help. I remember A.S. Byatt’s “Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary,” and then, I remember that story itself the way it was told in the Bible, and curiously felt like I was Mary for the first time in my life, talking to Jesus while Martha flew into a rage over the dishes. This is something new to me because all my life I have often felt like Martha, doing all the dishes while someone else like Ja do all the talking to Jesus. [Now, don't ask me, who is Jesus, here, it's Karl].
Being Mary for the first time makes me feel a bit giggly and happy for a change. Ja would kill me once he read this and realized he was being compared to Martha. [[Shhhh, it's Ja's birthday today so I better stop!]]

Ora pro nobis

The landscape at home is getting very horrifying, like the prospect of Hades. I thought a home is a place where you can take a rest and get a good night’s sleep but no. At seven thirty to eleven o’clock at night every night, sometimes extending down to two in the morning, I keep my vigil, waiting for someone to come home. Had I been a bit of the prayerful kind, I would have started saying the novenas, or the holy rosary or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which surprisingly for my agnostic soul, I found rather comforting once or twice when I tried it. Even if I can’t actually make sense of half of what I was chanting, it took away some of the pain off my chest or even eased the terrible headache I’ve been carrying along for days. Isn’t that why the patriarchs invented it?
But I hate patriarchs. I am sure I am either an agnostic, or a pagan so Sheilfa lent me Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” or Ana Castillo’s “Peel My Love Like An Onion.” She even followed that up with a whole bunch she left at the Bagobo Hotel the following week, which included Flannery O’Connor’s letters, “The Habits of Being;” “Three,” a collection of Flannery’s novels and short fiction; Edith Wharton’s “Old New York,” Katherine Anne Porter’s “Ship of Fools” and Willa Cather’s “O, Pioneers!” You would think I have been reading these while keeping my nightly vigil, waiting for the precious one to come home. But no, I would oftentimes be too tense to read. I would keep repeating whole paragraphs five times in a row, and still, could not make heads or tails of what I am reading. It doesn’t help that my eyesight sight blurs. When the kid finally toned down this week and started coming home on time without a trace of liquor in his breath, I started to feel relieved and happy. But then, Ja started banging things in the kitchen, saying words that are difficult to take. I was worried the kid might flee off again and renew the habit.
The kid confided to me about something when Ja started his temper tantrum. Ja had no idea how it was to learn of things like what the kid was saying. He flew into a rage over the unwashed plates. But what do I care about plates when my son was listening to suicide music?
I watched Sean doing his assignment. Sean’s face looked soft under the light and he was really working hard on his assignment. I did not want to shatter that look on his face. I wished I could get hold of old women’s novenas and moan, “Sa langub nga among gipuy-an imo kaming panabangan,” just the way my old grand aunts from Capiz used to chant when they were still alive. I also wanted to get hold of the Latin version they used to read, chanting, ora pro nobis, every end of the line. But the strange sounds they made and even the strange clothing they wore, those dark skirts reaching down the floor, used to turn me off as a girl, I ended up avoiding them and not learning anything. Now, I began to be intrigued by that cave they kept talking about. This choking, sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach, all remind me of the inexplicable horrors of caves.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Complications

If you’d ask, why have I been switching jobs that fast in the past months, perhaps, Flannery O’Connor could explain it better to you than I do. Just look for Enoch Emery, when his blood was conspiring something, and he got to do what he got to do. I was thinking about this, walking past Kapitan Tomas Monteverde elementary school, thinking, I only desire a simple life, why do things easily get so entangled? When a ball jumped out of the fence and for a while, looked like it will bounce on the roof of some running jeepney. Luckily, it didn’t. Instead, it bounced back the side of the road and got caught by the passersby before me. The guy played with the ball for a while and almost reverently put the ball down on the pavement and left. Just as I moved to pick it up so that I can throw it back to the fenced campus where it came from, another onlooker got it ahead of me and did just what I had in mind.
I was thinking about Flannery O’Connor all the while. I was thinking why would Flannery O’Connor choose a character like Hazel Motes to cross the path of another character like Enoch, to cross the path of the blind man, the fake, and later turn to be the real blind man himself?
Why would Hazel Motes stand there as if struck as he watched the peeler when what interested him were the scars on the face of the blind man and the blind man himself? Why would Sheilfa suddenly leave the entire bunch of books—containing Flannery O’Connor and Flannery O’Connor—in the lobby of the Bagobo hotel and call me days later to ask if I already got it? Is Sheilfa some kind of a Hazel Motes?

Fathers

Yes, I know, it must be sad to lose a father; yet, I can’t help wondering, how much sadder to lose a son? Or, how is it to have a father and not to have one at the same time? Or, to have one who is still alive but who is not quite a father at all, the way a classmate’s father or a friend’s father is, even if only taken for granted? It wouldn’t really matter, would it? As long as he is there: mad or angry, friend or a foe, someone to rebel against or someone to follow; as long as he is not someone living a separate life totally different from your own.
How is it to have a father that way? You don’t know how it feels, Ma, because you have had a father all your life. Do you know how it feels to be me?
Before the news came about the passing of your father’s father, you woke up one morning, saying you dreamt that your father was dead. Were you sad? I asked. Why were you sad? I asked again when you nodded.
Because then, he would no longer have the chance to know me, you said, speaking as if you were still a work-in-progress, soon to be completed in some future time, like some deadline for your architectural plates, before being offered to some distant, unworthy god. You did not ask who fathered me when I grew up. I would have told you it was my mother.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gift from the Hermit

My Birthday Card is a hermit, shown here as an old man in a long robe, looking straight into the lamp, giving the light his full attention. In the horizon, where the hermit stands, is a mountain, denoting isolation and distance.
On a special day, I tracked down the hermit where he lives to beg from him a bit of that isolation and distance which has endowed him the eternal wisdom.
Instead, the hermit showed me a box full of mementoes of forgotten things, now soiled and full of cobwebs.
I opened the box and two decades of dust flew off the lid, clouding my eyes. Afterwards, I saw books half-eaten by termites and ants; among them, “The Principles of Structures,” “Advanced Mathematical Formulas,” before a dusty executive organizer, its pages stained and browned with age, caught my attention. Its once white cover page, now badly stained, showed what could only be inconsequential scratches made by a baby with a fuschia pentel pen. The following page showed the name of a woman who lived at 202-F Tres-Labangon St. with a business address at Sunstar Daily, Osmena Boulevard, Cebu City; and the old telephone numbers, 54543 and 52658, still in use before that newspaper changed its address to its own building along P. del Rosario St., boasting of its first of a kind newspaper architecture in that part of the country.
The following page of the organizer showed a three-year reference calendar, denoting the years 1992, 1993 and 1994 and somewhere towards the end of 1994; a ballpen scribbling of a woman’s hand showed a series of dates from January 1 to 14, when she wanted to take a leave of absence from work. Immediately beside this note, as emphatic as if she was ordering herself, she wrote another note which says, “On November 15 or November 30, book a plane ticket to Cotabato for a December 31 flight.”
Everything that followed was history. How she made that crucial decision and boarded the Airbus 320 flight—or was it a smaller aircraft then?—that took her away from that place of nightmares, perhaps, forever. How someone had come only a few days after that looking for what he could no longer see, now safely intact and unreachable across the sea. How she had come to watch those inconsequential scratches of fuschia eventually transformed themselves into plates of architectural drawings.
The Hermit’s lamp particularly illumined the lone entry of the journal on January 2, 1993, which says, “3:07 a.m.,” the major source of energy for the woman. It was the only entry she wrote on her journal that year because of the volume of mind-numbing work she had to do. Her superhuman energy turned her into the female version of the mythical Bernardo Carpio. In the following pages, where her January 16, 1993 entry was supposed to be, the woman had crushed out the “3” and replaced it with “4;” which means that the next entries were made in 1994, exactly a year after she wrote her lone entry.
I took a look at all the entries of the journal, over and over, wondering how the woman was, what happened to her over the years? Clipped in the journal was the December 20, 1993 x-ray results, which says, “no radiological evidence of active PTB,” for the woman, 24 at that time, was frequently worried about her lungs and her frequent coughing.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Pasensya! These are dangerous times!

[From a conversation with a noted radio broadcaster]

When I told him about it, he did not laugh. Unlike most people who learned about what happened along the boundary of barangay San Isidro in Carmen, Davao del Norte at 9:24 to 9:34 am on Black Saturday, he did not even pass judgment over what we did or did not do, as if there were really some right things and wrong things to do under those circumstances; as if the incident itself was our fault.
Things like that always happen, he said. It was designed to scare you, he said. It also happened to me before, he said. Two times.
The first time it happened to me was back in the 80s somewhere in Ecoland. I never knew I ventured into the territory of intelligence agents.
We were just looking for corpses in a sack because someone called the radio station about the corpses hidden in a toilet of Kabacan elementary school. The one who called said the corpses were hogtied and placed inside the sack. This was in the 80s, when Davao City was the killing fields. I used to work for DXRH and four of us--three regular reporters and a volunteer--took quick notes of it and went to find the corpses.
We did not know where Kabacan elementary school was, so we kept asking.
We went all around the place looking for the goddam school. We reached where the Hall of Justice building is standing now, asking where Kabacan was. There was no SM City yet. There used to be the headquarters of the CHPG (Constabulary Highway Patrol Group) nearby in a building they shared with the police. We were so determined to find the corpses that when we came upon the headquarters, we asked the policemen on duty whether they knew where the Kabacan school was.
"Why?" The policeman asked.
"Someone told us there were corpses inside the toilet there. We want to verify if it was true because we want to report it on air."
The policemen told us to wait. One of them went inside to tell the chief. Afterwards, the policeman who went inside came back. He said the chief wanted us all to go down.
We were using the Pinoy 2 vehicle, the mobile patrol of DXRH, at that time, and the vehicle did not have a lock. We brought along with us the mobile radio base at that time and I was afraid it might get lost if I leave it alone in the car.
So, I told the police, maybe, I should stay in our vehicle to watch over our equipment. But the policeman said, no, the chief asked all of you to go down. All of you, he said. So, I was forced to go down.
But before that, they took our tape recorders, our IDs, even our wallets. When they took our wallets, I was alarmed. Why would they take our wallet? I asked myself. I began to feel helpless. They all forced us all to go down.
“Get inside!” said one policeman who shoved me into the door using his armalite butt because I did not want to follow inside.
Then, we were led into a room in a basement which only had a stair going down. We were practically under the earth, then. When we reached the bottom, we saw the chief. He had a desk. So, I realized, it was his office.
I never knew until then that the building had an underground; and that they used that underground office as base of their operations.
He made us stand in the middle of the hall. All of us, made to stand in the middle. Do you know how it felt? They could just have shot all of us there and nobody would know. We were under the ground. They’ve taken all our IDs.
The next thing that the chief ordered was, take off your clothes, meaning, the upper clothes. So, we took off our shirts. Then, he ordered us to take off our pants and we took off our pants.
Then, the chief asked, “So, what brought you here?”
“We’re just looking for the corpses, sir,” we said. “Somebody told us there are corpses hidden in the toilet of Kabacan Elementary School. We’re only here to cover the news.”
“Ahh,” the chief said. “Maybe, those were dogs.”
That’s all what the chief said.
Then, he said, “You may dress up now.”
Then, he said to his men, “Give them back their belongings.”

On our way home, we were all so shaken no one said a word.

Actually, they always do things like this to scare you. Especially when you venture inside their territory.
It happened to me two times, he said. The second time was when I was walking along Jones Avenue, this black jacket.
Jones Avenue, somewhere in Acacia, used to be the site of big protests in the 80s. This used to be where the protesting groups meet. This was also where the three (or four?) Davao lawyers, among them Lawyer Larry Ilagan, the husband of Luz Ilagan, were arrested.
I was walking through this area wearing this black jacket one day, the recorder clipped in my arm, when a car stopped just beside me, all its windows opened at the same time, with a full-cocked long firearm protruding from each window, all pointed at me. Somebody inside the car ordered me to raise my hands.
I could not immediately raise my hands because my recorder was clipped in my armpit. If I raise my left hand, my recorder will fall.
But they compelled me to raise both arms, so, I was forced to do just that. My recorder fell crushing to the ground. Yes, the recorder fell! I was lucky no one pulled the trigger.
When everything was cleared, they said, “Sorry, Bay, pasensya! These are difficult times, you know.”
They must have mistaken me for an NPA (New People’s Army).
I picked up my recorder. It was totally shattered.
They just sped away.

HE SAID these are the things they do to you when you venture into their territory, their operation base. That is where the body was found. That was also the place where they throw away the corpses. Who said there is such thing as the right thing or the wrong thing to do under those circumstances? You could never guess what’s on their minds!
When they come upon you and isolate you from the rest of humanity, the first thing for you to do is to find connection because you never know what will happen next. When they take away your phone, your last chance is gone.
It’s better to err on the side of caution.
You would never know whether or not your press ID can save you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dear Old Self

So, do you still remember going into the midnight sale at the Metro? No, no, not even the Metro but that rustic department store somewhere near Gaisano South of Colon? Yes,Fairmart. Where we used to walk through the thickening crowds swarming the store and pushing their way to the rummage bins, where the sales staff used to throw away those items as thick as they’re dusty and smelling of old corners for having stayed on the display shelves for years.
What were you thinking then, as you waded through the swelling, palpitating crowd, finding your way around the thick forest of clothes, inch by inch, nudging those who shoved and elbowed you, shoving and elbowing in return?
What decadence, you used to grumble, your eyes popping at the price tags of a coveted piece of blouse or underwear which could transform you into another you, affording you a chance to dream, “What decadence!” you exclaimed, mimicking that Russian KGB in a popular American situation comedy you used to watch in Honey’s room inside the Tsa Elim Dormitory.
So, what were you thinking then? Did you think you can change yourself from being a poor girl from a land across the sea now in a big city to get a college education? Did you think you can change the world by changing the way you looked?
You tried a dress and saw how it suited your young and scrawny body, how it flattered your skin, your mind a whirl of emotion as you looked at that face in the mirror. Was it you? Who’s that girl? You asked, turning, staring, wanting to take all, spending a day’s worth of food allowance to buy a dream and feed your burning delusions.
I didn’t know what happened after that. I have counted the years and surveyed this particular time, and found out how brief it was compared to the great avalanche that eventually followed and pulled you out of there and brought you to me.
I wish you had been more circumspect. I wish I had warned you but I was equally careless! I wish you had tarried in one of those magazine shops somewhere near the Ultra Vistarama and the Oriente where you can read Time and Newsweek for only P5 or so, or a newspaper for P2 or so; or ogle at Itzhak Bentov’s “Stalking the Wild Pendulum,” or Carl Sagan’s “Broca’s Brain” in another bookstore, instead of shoving your way into that stupid midnight sale, flirting with your own ego!

Stuck!

The shape of my writers block is a jagged rock that feels like a migraine. Why can’t you finish what you’re writing and move on with your life? Ja kept asking me, so, I go back to this tiny laptop to see what I can do with the story, but still the story refuses to budge. What is wrong with my head? The migraine seems to open ugly cracks on my mind where the blood cascades in powerful torrents.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The boy who (does not) refuse to grow up

Yes, I’m here inside Peter Pan, the curious dropping place of women shopping in the nearby mall. They came here in thongs and printed dresses, mother and daughter in the next table, a woman, a friend and a cousin, wiggling their bodies, shaking their hair as they go from table to counter, waiting for their orders. I just arrived here with Sean, who after a bite of the sugar-coated raisin bread, loosened up a bit and told me how, when he was in Grade One, he tried to buy an icecream cone worth 20 pesos with his 25-centavo coin. He was a bit puzzled why the woman selling it was mad at him. It was such an embarrassing blunder, he said, but now that he is entering Grade Four, he already has a fair understanding of things and would no longer commit such a mistake. I told him it was okay. I sensed it was better here than at Dunkin’ Donuts, where he would be preoccupied with the sweetness of his ChocoWacko. Or maybe at the Bread Station where he would be too busy eyeing the array of starchy delights to put in our basket. Earlier, I was here to exorcise the headache I’ve been having on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and erupted full blast on Easter Sunday. Now that everything is over, I am perfectly okay.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Everything Is Accounted For

What they pay with money, I pay with my own body. I pay with skin boils, inflamed sinuses, sore throats that develop into hard coughs, stomach acidity, stomach ulcers, arthritic knees, blurring eyesight, blurring memories, crumbling spirit, long hours of hard mental labor.

My Kerala

Maybe, she's still out there, doing volunteer works in Kerala. Though, I found out a few days ago the Kerala she was talking about is not the place where Arundhati Roy grew up but quite a totally different kind of Kerala.
“Why?!” she had asked, raising her brows when she saw the look of consternation on my face. “Does it make any difference? What is so special about your Kerala and this Kerala? The work I'm doing here is just the same. Why do I have to go to India?”
I said because in India, the colors of the flies are different.
I'm thinking of this because I'm beginning to be afraid. I just walked out of the store because I found out, rummaging through my bag just when I was about to pay, that I was short of cash and that I could have placed my money somewhere else. The storeowner, an accommodating lot, allowed me to bring the food to the table, while I run to the nearest ATM but when I rummaged through my bag again, I discovered that even my ATM was missing. I placed an emergency call to Ja but Ja, as usual, is unwilling to help. He is perched on his stool on Mt. Olympus, watching the rise and fall of whatever stocks on Bloomberg, so what do you expect?
Now, I'm beginning to be afraid. Someone is telling me to see to it that schedules should be followed to the letter so that nothing will go to waste. The hair on my neck stood on ends. I thought the world already knew I never follow anything to the letter. How can they missed my reputation as image breaker, iconoclast, rule breaker?
Years ago, I told my Uncle during the funeral of an older Uncle that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who follow rules and those who break them. "I belong to the latter," I said, pursing my lips, "I make my own rules." Uncle was shocked.
Now, I'm afraid of people who tell me to follow rules. I spend my whole lifetime breaking them and I'm not about to give that up.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Language of Birds

On February 16, 2010, I paused after I finished Batman’s part in, “On a Deadly Trail: Three Journalists Killed in the Philippines” when I noticed a piercing sound that began at the neighbor’s ground and increased in intensity as it approached my window. It sounded like a fierce warning—so I thought it was somebody downstairs, a possible assassin, perhaps, whistling a secret code.
Ja said I was becoming neurotic because of what I was writing—but there was something about this particular sound, which was so shrill and so piercing as if it tried to attract attention. When the whistle grew very painful to my ears, I turned around to find out what was going on.
And when I did? Lo! A yellow bird, a tamsi, perched itself on my window grill, chirping with delight; its companion, perched on the clothesline, returning a piercing chirp. The sight was a treat after days of wrestling with my thoughts, staring at an empty computer screen for long hours. The birds made me think of Batman, a Davao broadcaster killed on Christmas Eve in 2007 and Geneboyd, a young photojournalist killed in Jolo, Sulu on November 12, 2004.
I remember how Batman last waved at us at Yellow Haus while I and Mandaya and Jepoi and Di were brainstorming for the maiden issue of I Love You, Baby magazine, the magazine that circulates in our mind. It was late at night and Batman and Tec, talking at a table away from us, stood up to go. He was gone a few weeks after.
I did not get to finish our last conversation with Geneboyd. We were at the Waterfront Hotel waiting for the press con to start and he was talking about that cartoon show a lot better than Spongebob Squarepants we used to be so crazy about in 2004. We had to stop because the guests had arrived and we had to listen and he had to take pictures. We all got down to work and rushed to write the stories afterwards. But the next thing I knew, he was in Jolo and something happened.
The whole thing was so unacceptable and senseless, I got the sudden urge to ask him, who was that cartoon character, again, Boyd? Please tell me. Please tell us what happened in downtown Jolo. But he could no longer reply.
I thought about the two journalists as I watched the bird on my window grill pointing its beak to the sky. I never knew a bird’s beak could be so beautiful. It was so extraordinarily sharp and I gasped at its thinness. I wanted to grab my camera and capture the moment. But the birds must have noticed. They started to fly, still chirping at each other and shrilly calling back to me. I strongly felt they were trying to tell me something I couldn’t make heads or tails of, a message that must be very important.
Suddenly, I wish I could understand the language of birds.