I came to the city nearly a decade ago from my hometown. If one gave me the chance to do so, I’d launch into a nostalgic spiel about my childhood; scraping my knees in the wide roads in the afternoons and looking up at a blanket of stars in the evenings. I’d recount the cool air and the tight-knit community; the peacefulness and the canopy of trees. I’d talk about the lingering smell of cigarette smoke that blanketed the small sari-sari store we owned, and how a whiff of the same smell transported me back in time. I said all these with what must have been a childlike wonder in my eyes; the eyes of a homesick girl from a village now in the confusion of the city.
It wasn’t entirely true. I was born in the city first, but the years in which I was at an age to somewhat comprehend my surroundings was spent in various places. We moved too quickly for me to consider a place one I belonged to. Pilar Village was different; we stayed there for years. I spent rainy days getting my legs splashed with mud, and the summer afternoons plucking bayabas and alatiris from trees with playmates. I skinned my knees stumbling on unpaved roads and sang Christmas carols with makeshift tambourines from the metal caps of soda bottles. When I looked up the skies, there was always a hundred thousand stars twinkling back. It was home.
I hardly recognize it now, and I’m sure the village doesn’t, either. The houses were familiar – despite various paint jobs – but the people who poured life into them were gone. When I looked up at the skies, there was only a blanket of grey clouds. The roads were smooth and empty. The trees were bare. Only the memories remained, but I realize they are nothing compared to what the city has given me.
I found comfort in its mayhem. Here, I was many times lost in the concrete maze and at a loss at life’s labyrinth itself. It gave me loneliness and heartbreak, and with my lowest and highest, the city shared memories of my pain and my happiness, comforting and celebrating with me. I experienced moments and met people both fleeting yet precious. I had grown familiar to the miasma of smoke and filth; to the flurry of people; to the bright, flashing lights and skyscrapers at every corner. I knew complex routes like the back of my hand. Despite the ever-present chaos and confusion and danger, I can say that it is home.
I mistook nostalgia to mean a sense of belongingness. How could a person ever belong to the past, especially one conjured from a fickle, young memory that was seen through rose-coloured glasses? What matters is what is here in the present, and how one feels when it is presented. I write this from a fast-food chain with loud, pop music; the view from the glass windows is one of neon signs and an overwhelming number of cars passing by us and I can still say, Yes, I am home.