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.