Head over streets

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.


Yesterday’s ghosts.

Sometimes, you want to ask, “What the hell are you still doing here?” to a memory, only for them to smile smugly back. They’re like ghosts lingering at the loneliest crevices of your body. When it’s dark and quiet, the night looms with shadows of regrets. They’re there, standing at the foot of your bed. They’re there, slipping past a doorway so quickly you only catch a glimpse of their presence from your peripheral vision. They’re there, with the familiar scent of their perfume, or a tune they loved to hum to. Try as you might, you can’t shake off their existence.

Other times, you never notice when exactly they’ve started to slip away. You stop at a familiar place. You hear the same song. Something should be here, you think, but what you only know is that you’ve stopped remembering.

Dead Stars of the May Day Eve: The Illusion of Love

I still see love as this magical thing. I grew up on a steady diet of paperback love stories and romantic comedy movies where two people can look at each other and just know, there and then, that they were soulmates. Cue the next scene of Romeo and Juliet meeting in a party, marrying each other, and then lying together on Juliet’s bed the next day. Cue the next few chapters of a Nicholas Sparks book, with in-depth confessions and passionate kisses by the fireplace. Of course, there are also those anecdotes on the Internet, where each tells a story of how a couple simply fell in love at first sight and are now living happily ever after.

I eventually figured out that love isn’t always like that. It’s delusional to think you can just make eye contact with a fairly attractive stranger in the crowd and exchange vows with them the day after. Even in relationships, while grand gestures or big leaps of sacrifices like we see in the movies or read about in books can happen, it doesn’t guarantee either of you a fairy tale ending. Those books and films and stories amplified the basic desire to be wanted and loved, but with the illusion that it can happen in a snap. It’s as if all you have to do is go out, meet a person once and it’s eternal love and happiness from here on out. It’s refreshing when you read a book or see a movie where the “love at first sight” and “everything works out in the end” cliches aren’t done among many others. It may not be as satisfying or romantic, but it’s definitely more realistic. It shows you the other side of love: one that flames too quickly and burns out, one that consumes and hurts, one that we chase after and never get, one that slowly turns bitter instead of sweet.

These two Filipino short stories do just that. They capture the magic of love as well as the allure, and temptation it holds, and how it can all come crashing down with the test of time.

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I don’t know if this is a good thing. | | Yesterday, in a page: 01/04.

Being off-key didn’t stop me from belting out Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now until my throat was sore in the karaoke, and my friends sounding like they were reciting the lyrics instead of singing them didn’t stop me from cheering like a crazed groupie. I had the same, childish glee getting arcade tickets, and I reveled in the harsh lights of the city at night walking home. Then, I reached a certain point when I knew the day was about to end, and I was already looking back at the present moment, drinking all the details in, trying to immortalize the present into a good, vivid memory to look back on.

I found myself doing the same thing now, when I’m just on my phone late at night, surrounded by my journals and books. Sometimes, I just look up, staring blankly into space, and I feel timeless. I am myself, now, a person in this date and time and exact place; someone my past self was working towards, someone my future self will look back on.

I find myself feeling nostalgic for the present.

The Girl in the Mirror

There are eyes on your neck. You feel it. It comes from three pews behind you, and a couple of seats to your left.

You turn your head slightly. It is just enough to catch a glimpse of a balding man with drooping, sleepy eyes a row behind you, his head nodding to the sermon blanketing the church. Behind him, a mother and her dark red lips is crooning to a baby clinging to her shoulder, with her arm clad with gold bangles holding him in place. Finally, behind her, there is a familiar face belonging to a boy your age, in a dark blue polo, staring at you. You turn around and catch his eyes. He smiles, abashed, and looks away.

What does he see, anyway? A friend. A tan girl, with long hair, pretty eyes – you’ve heard him say that to a mutual friend once, after the sermon in the gardens by the ancient fountain. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A floral dress every Sunday. A shy girl with always a smile to spare, but rarely a story to tell. You’ve heard the teasing and the jokes and felt the staring and the attention. From him, there was always a hand offered and oftentimes, a compliment or two.

There is a sharp pinch to your thigh, and you jump. You belatedly realize you’ve been staring off to the side, head still turned in the same direction, eyes transfixed on the floor. You turn your face to the front, but not before catching a whiff of jasmine perfume and a view of cherry red lips turned down in a scowl on a woman’s face bearing likeness to yours.

What does she see?

A younger her, perhaps. That’s what everybody in the family says, even though she herself couldn’t see her face on her mother’s features, with all of her high cheekbones and arched brows. Her face was softer and rounder, but maybe that would be taken away by age.

Soft. Her mother could see her that way. A sensitive, dazed, impractical young girl, who stayed in the corner in any sort of gathering (instead of milling around and shaking everybody’s hands like her mother), and who liked to stay out on the balcony, the mosquitoes feasting on her legs, to stare out at a fogged-up view of the city.

“You better listen,” your mother mutters, her lips barely moving.

You try. You can’t. The priest seems to look at everyone in the pews, but you know it can’t be so. He sweeps his hands and gazes at the audience to his left, right and center.

If his eyes would rest upon you, what would he see? Nothing more than a teenage girl as part of the 11 AM session.

If the woman sitting beside you looked at you, what would she see? A fellow church-goer. Someone younger. Someone in a dress. Someone with a bracelet on her wrist instead of pearls in her ears. Take a look at the woman beside the young girl, and she would see a daughter.

Time passes. An hour later, and you and your mother follow the crowd out. You excuse yourself to the bathroom.

You follow the path, open the door and face the mirror.

What do you see?

A girl. Long hair to her waist. A floral dress. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A daughter.

A girl in the church bathroom. Long hair she’s been itching to cut for months, except it seems such a waste. A floral dress she spilled scalding coffee on in her bedroom a week before, with the silver bracelet hiding the tiniest portion of the mark of the burn. A daughter, an only child, in fact, but not a prized one.

A girl. A shrinking violet with big dreams. Someone who desires too many things. Someone kind – yes, you could see that.

“I see you,” you say to the mirror. “Can you see me?”

The girl in the mirror nods.


Photo credit: Collaboration of Kensuke Koike aka 小池健輔 (Japanese, b. 1980, Nagoya, Japan) & Thomas Sauvin aka Beijing Silvermine aka 北京银矿 (French, b. 1983, Paris, France, based Beijing, China) – No More No Less  Photo Collages