Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hearing about you

On our way back to town the previous week, someone brought up your name to ask if I still remember you.
But how could I forget? Those nights you used to sit on the porch, which we’ve torn down long ago to give way to a ground floor terrace that remains unfinished until now. That porch remained in my memory, haunting me in my dreams. It had a rectangular trough, which used to hold Ma’s potted plants that included a palmera, and other ornamentals that made the pit of my stomach churn with longing every time I remember them now. 
Enclosing the trough was the open-air window whose frame was carved with wood of various geometric shapes. 
On the nights that you would come by for a visit—you’d sit on this porch, your back to the plants, your whole frame of a lovely body directly facing us. The porch gave the full view of the insides of the small house, the living room opening to an adjoining dining room, the edge of the dining table directly on the line of your sight. 
What were you thinking back then? I was thinking of hiding somewhere but the house offered no extra space to hide! We used to be taking dinner every time you drop by for a visit but no matter how we prodded you, you'd refuse to join us. Instead, you stayed there where I could not see you, eating me with your eyes, tearing away my soul from my body.  How did it feel back then, to be feasted on by your eyes in the dark, in full view of Mother and Father? It was something I could have enjoyed sumptuously in private, but right then and there, it was such a discomfort. 
Now that I'm hearing your name again, I remember those secret feasting we had, and wondered when our feasting ended, replaced by long years of your absence? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pa's Story

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to bring Pa and Ma to the shrine of the Infant of Prague, which has always been my favorite place, an airy place full of greenery overlooking the city. The place has a personal significance to me because it was here where, when Sean was still a toddler, and I was oftentimes left without a house help at home, I would go up here with Sean to light candles. Candles, I know, have their religious significance--but for me, at that time, a candle was not only the light of my own darkness, it was also the balm to my frayed nerves. The simple act of lighting candles and watching them melt seemed to melt away all my troubles (until I go back to the house again)!
It was this secret pleasure that I wanted to share with Ma and Pa. We spent the Saturday afternoon strolling about, doing nothing, staring at the greenery. Pa, as usual, was his grumpy self. Shortly after we arrived, I asked if he was tired. "Ngano gina-treat ko nimo parang bata? Bag-o pa ko naabot diri (Why are you treating me like a child? I just arrived here)," he replied. We went to an adjoining property, where I pointed to him the coal dome of the coal-fired power plant near the sea. "That is Binugao, Pa," I said, because Binugao held a special place for my Pa. The place always figured in his stories about his arrival in Mindanao. But he said,  "Ambot, kung motuo ba ko nimo (I don't know if I should believe you)."
I told sister, who was left at home, we should just be patient with Pa because of what he endured since he was nine years old. Sister replied, "Kay imo jud diay nang gisukitsukit (So, you really dug it up?!)" and I felt I was stealing Pa's history, as if Pa's story is not my own story; and Pa's story is not our story. As if it was not a story about Mambusao, as if it was not a story about Capiz, as if it was not a story about Davao, as if it was not a story about Binugao, as if it was not a story about B'la, as if it was not a story about Upper B'la. As if it was not a story of our people, as if it was not a story of our country.

Sunday, May 03, 2015


In our family, I am a Cassandra. I can “see” but no one believes me, so I ran the risk of suffering the fate of being slaughtered, as Cassandra did after the Fall of Troy when she—along with the rest of the family—was taken by the winning army of Agamemnon as part of the war booty. Cassandra was the distraught woman standing with Agamemnon at the foot of the stairs, before Agamemnon took the red carpet welcome prepared for him by Clytemnestra upon his arrival home. The red carpet led directly to his death in the poisoned tub.
Unlike Cassandra, I did not wait for the total devastation to come. I escaped to tell the story. My Pa arrived in Mindanao from Capiz as a nine year old boy after the war, when people in the villages of Tum’lalud and Sinunduhan (just across the river), in the town of Mambusao, were talking of migrating to Mindanao to look for better life, or perhaps, a better land. Pa told me this story, sitting on his hospital bed, the dextrose on his left arm, as he emerged seventy years later, trying to make sense of the pain.
He was still a boy when they arrived. What prompted Grandma to bring her children to Mindanao was not really the need to look for better land, but that row between her and Grandpa over the eldest daughter Maria, who ran away with a man not of their choice and went to live with him in Iligan. [[This story seems to be lost now, because Maria died years ago and the only cousin who I knew can link me to her also died the following years.]] But according to Pa, Manang Maria ran off with a man. She was the eldest daughter in the family—engaged to someone important back in Mambusao. As a result of her elopement Grandma and Grandpa had a row, which ended up with Pedro (the name of Grandpa), already drunk, chopping off the leg of their table, which like the house, was made of logs, a sturdy material. As a result of this quarrel, Grandma rushed to migrate to Mindanao, where everybody was heading.  She was a tough, strong-willed woman, and as I imagine, high spirited. Women were not allowed to go to school during her time, so, she only reached up to Grade 2, while her brothers went to Manila to become a priest and a pilot. Yet, she was an intelligent and ingenuous woman, who, during the war, was able to feed some hungry souls straying to her house because she never ran out of supply of rice from her harvests. She immediately secured the money (sold their land? Borrowed? I’m no longer sure) for the trip to Mindanao, where they eventually landed in Davao and came to settle in Binugao, where Pa eventually worked as the encargador of the land of the Gods (Guinoo).
In Binugao, the teacher was distraught when all the Grade six pupils failed to solve the Math problems he had written on the board. When he came upon Pa during lunchtime solving all the problems on the blackboard with ease, he asked, “What grade is this?” and someone answered, “Grade 1V.” Pa suddenly basked at the attention of all those girls (dalaga), most of them Haponesa, regarding him with awe, which slightly embarrassed him, though, he said he felt assured to realize he was wearing his Boy Scout uniform on that day, with the matching shoes at that.  He was also amazed that the lessons in Binugao could be that easy compared to those in Mambusao.

When Mr. Espanol and Mr. Buenaluz, the teachers from Luzon, realized Pa was already tilling the land and planting corn in it, they asked with concern, “Why, where is your father?” Pa blurted out, just like a nine-year-old child, “They kept fighting with each other so they agreed to separate. Mother left him in Mambusao.”  His teachers never let him work in school after this. “Parang Luzon (like Luzon),” they said to describe his farm because they were Ilocanos, and might have missed the land where they came from.