The Twin Event

The cafeteria at a Seniors Centre in downtown Vancouver has fallen into a hum. Chatter about life has lifted off with diners shuffling away. Jan and I, still huddling swathed in gray November light, turn pensive.


“Do you miss home?” she asks.


“Not really,” I answer.


She looks past me, into the speechlessness I sink into.


Here is what I would have unraveled had I recovered swiftly words born in sunshine. I would tell her about the town where I was born—a town the shape of a mallet that hugs the northernmost edge of the Philippine archipelago.


Here, sky, landscape and things that breathe appeared lush, wild and poignant all at once. Wildwoods fringed our playgrounds and schools. Nights and moonlights came as they should. We studied in the gas light; we played under full moons.


The spell of those years still grips me, especially the last years. I had just stepped off childhood and in to transitory teenage-hood. That summer of 1957, life for me took on a sudden turn. After ten years of my being her only child, my mother had become pregnant; we had to move to my maternal grandmother’s house for her and the baby’s care.


If we didn’t move west, going to school would be for me a breezy walk past homes and grounds I knew blindfolded. But as it happened with our move west, I had to trudge a kilometer span of asphalt road and some gravel four times a day, including going home for lunch, then back again, passing by homes of  kin.


On that walk, time flowed as fluid as the stream by a grandaunt’s house, where I used to dawdle under shade of the bamboo grove. If she but caught my shadow, she would rush down, a bag of star fruit for me in hand.


A few miles off, an uncle’s movie house though closed at noon, snagged my steps with bill boards of what’s “Coming Soon”. If my uncle, who was also the mayor then, were meeting with councilmen under the huge acacia tree fronting the movie house, and told that I was gawking at Robert Taylor, he would have me called in for a glass of fresh sugar cane juice and a token for the next movie. I knew then that I would be missing half of the subtraction lessons during the first period after lunch, but I also knew that my teacher, a granduncle, would merely peer through his black-rimmed glasses and mutely hand me the seatwork; I never got past the passing mark. 


Next, I would have to pass by the town clinic after the market square. The physician here was my aunt. She assisted at my birth and had coaxed me to submit like a lamb to vaccinations and quinine injections, saying these would make me beautiful.


That year when we moved west, she almost dismissed me as jealous of my sister’s birth as I had walked past the clinic, hardly turning a head. My sister was born the day the then president of the Philippines came to our town. My Girl Scout troop had been assigned front positions to greet him and I had hurried in my un-pressed uniform as the household whirled into confusion when my mother had labor pains before dawn.  


I proved my aunt wrong when on the afternoon of the next day after school I broke away from my friends and ran up the stairs my hands cold with anxiety and huffed toward the bed by the window. Not only my aunt but a host of cousins, aunts and uncles, grandaunts and granduncles, a whole town, heaped on me tokens of love as much as they trooped as if a princess had been born to see my sister.


We left town shortly after I graduated. On our last visit forty-five years later and already orphaned, we listened to an aunt recall that twin-event apparently now a town-tale though she had forgotten my sister’s name. On that visit, we had sold a great grandfather’s last property. In a year, my sister migrated to Canada; I had followed.


“You seem happy, here,” Jan says unrelenting.


Alice appears by the door, platinum head the autumn wind had ruffled, blue eyes rheumy from the cold. I get up from my chair arms spread wide to hug her.


“My little one,” she whispers as she busses me on the cheek as any of my cousins, aunts, grandaunts, a whole town would, seeing me anytime.


Back to my chair, Jan smiles ruefully at me.


I must tell her my story, I vow secretly. Only then would she understand why I don’t really miss home.


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