Filipineses


What keeps you away from home, Tia?

The three-storey house has risen on soil she once called home. I’ve climbed it to the roof top where I scooped in volumes of sweetish tropical breeze, gazing at a perforated sky—I once read that the Philippines’ latitude crowns it with a concentrated view of the constellations.

Unlike the old bungalow, as if furious for the absolute, my uncle had poured his dreams into this new house: Marble floors and wide ledges, windows from across each other for counter-flow, bathrooms adjacent to the bedroom outfitted with splatter-safe floors, and elevated to bar prying eyes from the street, a free-flowing living-dining kitchen furnished ala America on the first floor.

The old house also sprawls in light-splashed spaces from high ceilings and wide windows that siphon light, but its fewer bedrooms did pose a quandry over a sister’s long-talked about retirement place. And then, horrible Andoy inundated this house almost to the roof top, washed off most of life he had stacked in books and memorabilia, and stayed as trauma dregs, which is why, in the new house, a climb begins at an elevation of tall six steps up the front door. The push for its construction came during his sister’s yet another homecoming; this time, an architect and contractor had been called.

Still, two homecomings later, the sister kept dipping her toes and withdrawing them, like testing the pool for safety even comfort, as she silently pined for half her heart in Honolulu, her home of 30 years. Apparently, without her meaning to, her veins have rooted among undulating roads around Waikiki; how could Manila’s roads in constant Gordian knot compare? At 80 years old, sustained by youthful spurts of wanting to check out a good deal at Ala Moana Mall or attend a bishop’s noonday holy mass at the downtown cathedral, she had often felt stymied by warnings of black diesel smoke that could choke her and bad wolves prowling sunset streets of Manila in the few months of her stay.

Balikbayan boxes of her own appliances bundled and humped in a kitchen corner of the old house, notwithstanding, my aunt has not ceased refining her purchases to furnish the dream house—of late, a Kuerig coffee maker to replace a yet unpacked programmable-brewing-time Black and Decker. The Kuerig, she later worried, could conk out in one of those power surges or undetected fluctuations so common in Manila.
Stacks of food also trail her as if she had not known long ago how Philippine grain tastes, insisting that the 20 pound bag of brown rice from California tastes cleaner and nuttier. She had once brought 10 pounds of steak round, claiming local beef tastes ma-anggo. Concerned whether or not papaya or what other fibrous local fruit could be available as soon as she arrives, she would stock up on Costco’s dried fruit bags and prunes to bring, not to mention, of course, those aromatic macadamia blends of Kona coffee. Several trips on buses that kneel would keep her occupied, finding more stuff to fill the dream home.

But unease have persisted each time she flew in. That first morning she and I had visited Manila, her creased forehead on waking warned me of a terrible day unfolding: she felt a blister inside her left cheek. Which dentist would see her promptly? Given her health concerns that her dentist in Honolulu would not have to review, would she get proper care? We had hang our heads on the breakfast table, despairing over seeming improbables like if no one could bring her, she would have to ride a tricycle to the gate first, flag an FX express and risk being suffocated by the redolence of bold fragrances, which office-goers wear, or worse, seated beside a svelte friendly lady whose deft wrists could magnetize valuables.

Visiting my sister and me at our hotel during a short trip to Honolulu, my aunt had complained of dizziness from sleeplessness, perhaps from the soda pop she had sipped in a children’s party though she had just received a glowing reading of her last check-up, all paid for by health insurance, of course. Again, we had hang our heads, shivering as we confronted the day when her ailments might progress, God forbid, and who would then, take care of her?

You really have to go back home to Manila, Tia, I had gently proposed. She agreed as she picked up a bagful of alamang, dried dangit and espada, pusit, too, she had brought back from Manila she had promised to share with us. And three bags of Kona coffee, of which I first demured, but she insisted, saying she had more from another Balikabayan box about ready for pick up. I hugged her, rueful with gratitude.

Against my aunt’s two lives and those of friends to which I’ve been privy, I realized what rends them apart when threatened by uprooting: As the landscape of security and comfort pushes forward, details as in forest trees, cloud the choice. Would hearth, which had birthed her, win out in the end? Among quite a number I’ve known, holding out too long turned out too late for a decision. Yet, I believe, the play of both lives sustained them, as it does my aunt.

Homecoming, Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Philippines, November 3, 2013, Manila


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