Angeles Estates as setting
November 26, 2009, 8:29 am
Filed under: essay, excerpt, travel | Tags: , , , ,

Angeles Estates from balcony


 ‘In my heart, a home to roost’

In a writer’s mind, a place is not a mere location. Any place has the potential of seeping into whatever she creates. Moonlight on the water in a sea resort soon appears on a page as a haiku sequence, one that I wrote. Fifth Avenue on winter evenings sheds off its glitter and reveals a sinister side as in a piece I submitted for a writing exercise on “Setting for the Novel” at a class I attended in New York’s Gotham Writing  Workshop. Cherry blossoms shedding petals in the wind along Riverside in Baltimore at dusk brings on images of moths in their last flight as I wrote in a haiku that won for me an honorable mention at the 2007 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.

But places or a place during a travel or visit to a writer can turn into a home to roost. Once it does, her spirit lives there and so do the characters of her stories. It is then when the ordinary takes on the quality of permanence as do settings in literature. One such place for me is Angeles Estates. It is not just a place to stay. In my heart, it is a home to roost.

‘Light splashes here like a flood’

During my long stay in 2001–and the coconut trees were still dwarfs then except for the almost-a-hundred-year old mango tree by the gate–I’ve written literary journals, completed a novella, and a short story with Angeles Estates as setting. It is the quality of light I so love. It comes as splashes like a flood during the day and at night especially during a full moon it swarms and stays with me.

Secured and guarded, I would stroll at night on the paved walks of the front lawn. Some nights, the sky unfurled like a diamond-studded mantle. I’ve seen a shooting star from the frangipani island hedge and a waning moon that appeared like the many faces of sadness behind streaks of clouds.

Now that the trees, the hedges, and the frangipani ‘pool’ in the middle have grown breathlessly lush, I can imagine how much more satisfying it is to stay for the night and see the dawn rise and the day come in splashes of light.

At a fiction writing class I attended at New York University’s Continuing Education workshops not long after I left Angeles Estates, I wrote this story which I spun out off the novel I finished during that extended stay .

The main character, Amanda, comes home for the first time after she was exiled to New York by a grandaunt.

“Dawn in Manggahan”: An Excerpt


Amanda woke to an engine sigh. Deep and sad like a man’s, it rose from below the window of her room at the south end of the estate buildings’ eastern wing, her grandaunt’s residence. Then, a soft hiss of gravel shifting under steps faded into the muffled din.

She listened, sifting other sounds—singsong calls in the dialect, some low-throated laughter, and like high choral notes, the warbling of ricebirds.

Barely seven and the morning had ripened like noon. In Amanda’s room, daylight had swollen like a flood. On a wall, patterns in monochrome heaved—light bouncing off the front lawn.

Estates garden: frangipani 'pool'

The corridor buzzed with cleaners, young girls with open smiles. She felt she moved among strangers. Exiled to New York after she recovered from that night she bled in a shack in the foothills, Amanda had come back to the estate for the first time—so changed from the hacienda she spent summers as a child.

She had missed the kitchen balcony where she watched the sun rise. It was also there where Senora Viana had set her up in a rattan lounger on mornings after she was brought here incognito from the hospital a week following the raid. On her first winter at that studio in the West Side in New York she craved for those purple dawns. She thought she would die of longing, wondering about the child and the lover she lost.

She slipped out of the south entrance, grazing the side mirror of an Eisenhower jeep parked fronting the wall—the engine that sighed, perhaps? Past the lawn, Amanda spotted a cluster of men in starched denims and buri hats, the farmers waiting for the dining cum seminar hall to open.

They were telling jokes, slapping knees as they guffawed, some gagging, a few spitting red juice from chewed betel nut—so unlike the grim men who crouched in bamboo groves to watch her plays years ago: those hardly laughed, wearing pain like a brand singed on their faces.

dwarf coconuts

Amanda turned away, wincing, ducking fronds of dwarfed coconut trees, and skirting a hedge of blooming frangipani bushes and of birds of paradise in clumps.

She stepped into a lull in the kitchen. Counter shelves on the wall left a yawning center, half a dance hall drenched in light. On a green speckled Formica table, Amanda saw the thermos pot’s on-button still lit and beside it tightly lidded jars of instant coffee and cream. Cups and saucers stacked on the open shelf above the sink still glistened from the last rinse. Noticing a breadbasket and a tub of margarine, she sat down for breakfast.

Amanda had stood up to leave when the screen door heaved then banged. A wiry woman huffed in, four live hens in her right hand tied together in the shins—lidless eyes blinking their anxiety. When she whirled from the door to the counter past the table where Amanda sat back, only then did she see Amanda.

Ay naku!  Sorry,” her apologies of not noticing Amanda immediately tumbled. She prattled on as she filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove. She was told Amanda would come down later so she thought she should dress the chickens first before she made Amanda a meal of fried rice and pork sausage.

Amanda said, it’s okay, she had eaten and thanks anyway.

Ay, teka! Taste the bibingka,” the woman spun around, sliding onto a plate a piece of rice cake grilled in banana wrapper.

Amanda demurred. “Huwag na. No, really, I’m full.”

The kettle lid jiggled from the rising steam. This made the cook jump, and yell for someone to help. A girl in Bermuda shorts and thong slippers dashed in and yanked a chicken from the bunch. The cook, blade in one hand, twisted the fowl’s neck as the girl gripped both legs.

“I have to go. Salamat,” Amanda leaped to the door, shaking.

The cook laughed. “Hindi ka pa nagbabago. You’re still afraid to see a chicken dressed!”

Amanda looked back through the screen door, straining for the cook’s face—did she know her? But a sun patch had splashed on the marble steps, blinding her.

She re-crossed the gravel path and reentered the south wing from another door. The corridor had emptied, clearing a view of the south entrance. Amanda glimpsed a man walking off, perhaps to that jeep parked there? His gait, the way he shifted his weight to his left leg and swung his left arm—though his shoulders seemed a bit hunched—froze Amanda. When he stooped to peer at something, she saw a fat curl tumble to his brow.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, gripping her arms around herself, suddenly feeling bare.

When she looked again, he had disappeared.

Visist Angeles Estates at