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.

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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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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

road to nowhere

When I am on the road, on foot with sore soles or on vehicles, slouched against seats; viewing proud, towering skyscrapers; hearing a cacophony of impatient sighs and traffic noise and snippets of conversations all dull and warm and deep, is when I feel alive the most.

There’s a certain feeling of purpose within each distance covered that even the most mundane of errands feels like a quest. Being around the presence of other people grounds you to the fundamentals of nature and society: here we are, in a chaotic world, trying our hardest to systemize and organize what little we can. Realizations that, as a whole, seem to whisper to me, goading me on: You are here. You are here. You are here.

No human being was ever created to settle. From the very beginning of civilization, we stay where we have what we need and where we may be needed. Over time, resources deplete or needs are modified and changed and we wander farther. One step out and there’s the feeling of liberation – our homes are far from being prisons, depending on an individual’s perspectives, but just one step out, and another, then another, until we are further out from our comfort zones of built routines around the basic necessities of human survival and there is freedom in where I can go and what I can do and who I’d stumble upon. I am awake, and life is no longer waiting to happen or merely happening upon me. I’m making it happen. I’m making the choices. I am hopeless when the slightest and smallest of things slip from my fingers, reminding me I am not in charge of fate – there is nothing you can do – but then, I’m reminded I can, however futile, take charge of my own.

I have the promise of purpose somewhere.

Calypso

If there should be something that you must remember,
it is this: you are one of the many lovers
sinking their toes into the smooth sand of this isle.
I don’t say this in order to dull the fire
that we have stoked to flames, caressing the heavens –
but to confess and to stand witness to these piles of ashes.
soon you will leave, like the rest of your brethren,
to fulfill one of the Olympians’ worst curses:
inevitable love, the promise of loneliness;
my island a mere rest stop to your epic quests;
when you venture to the seas, gone the 0
(of us, of me) will be. you are a kind guest,

so please: keep your distance. let your sweet, sweet words fester,
on your tongue with your wistful desires- forever.

Photo credit: Tim Lane (British, b. Cheltenham, England, based Bristol, South West, England) – Sophia  Drawings: Graphite, Pencils, Paint on Paper

A Heart in Diaspora

I have come to know only two seasons, like the soil that bore me to fruit:
one, of suffocating warmth and heat; and two, of vengeful tears of angels from the heavens I magine to exist.

It is possible for the mind to wander,  but for the body to stay
in one place; exploring kaleidoscopic realms unreachable by human sensibility, living in various fantasies – and I wonder,
then, if our hearts are the same.

For I have loved you with the caress of the breeze of spring; for I fell into an unknown world as easily as the fall of leaves from trees;
for it could only be winter that followed when we both froze at the first taste of the burning cold
our love could hold; for we stood on thin ice, cracks creeping and spreading and taunting by our feet, until, locked in each other’s eyes we move to the ground we must burrow under,
to find warmth together; stoking
a gentle fire for two.

for I have loved you through summer,
when the flowers bloomed once more.
and I must say i will love you over and over,
as the seasons change and i fall and freeze and bloom and my heart will remain
here in a foreign land i only know of not through sight,
nor smell,
nor touch – but of closed eyes and steady heartbeats.

Summer Syndrome

Paris, and the fantasies of moonlit strolls, nibbling on bread outside of a dreamy cafe, feet tapping against cobblestones. Paris, with its streets covered in filth and the nights taunting crime. The Paris syndrome, where psychiatric breakdowns are caused by the reveal of the shocking reality of the dream city, is something I mull over. I thought about it, hair tied up in a bun, my eyes squinting at the odd juxtaposition of the brightness of the sun enough to blind me and the threat of rain just a few miles over. 

Summer entails mornings where you wake up with a parched throat and hair sticking to the back of your neck; your body sticky with sweat. It’s also the season of travelling, bodies bared glowing sunkissed, sipping from entire coconut fruits and taking endless video loops of your feet barely in the sea. It’s flowers in long, flowing hair and love found during beach bonfires that disappears as soon as the rain starts pouring. It’s the days where the slightest breeze feels like a blessing and being under the sun at the strike of noon a curse. It’s when the children run free on the streets and plastic cups filled to the brim with milk and ice are spotted on every street corner; it’s when the days seem longer, as if God willed the hours to go past twenty-four. It is these things, and so much more, but it is never the frightening amount of gray clouds that start to obscure the distant roofs of homes from your view. Yet the latter is what I first cast my eyes that afternoon, barefooted and groggy from siesta, on what was reported to be the first day of summer. 

Umaambon!” a child screamed, and three more snickered as if the announcement emboldened them as they ran across the street. I gazed down at a puddle underneath the shade of a store, holding an ice cream cone, and when the first drops of rain in turn made ripples I ducked my head further in defeat. I headed for home. It is not in nature to keep promises they never made. It is always in a frenzy; always brash, and how foolish of us to think it will the act the way we expect to because we said so.

Summer is freedom, and warmth, and happiness – yet the raindrops beat on the roofs loudly, like a vengeful lover, demanding that you remember her; like that small detail you chose to overlook but never do, your own eyes betraying you. It is the rattling reality check to the delusion; the lure of summer; the impossible fantasy. You do know that it is fleeting. Storms and frosted windows and floods drowning many last breaths as the bed takes on the shape of your body, eyes burnt blind from all of the screens’ glare are more common; less enticing, but you’ll choose to look at the neon lights reflected off puddles of rainwater and the lullabies of drizzles at night.

You’re a glutton for romance.