21 April 2004

Time Materialized
After Einstein’s Dreams and Big Fish

Behind the glass pane, a girl around my age sits smoking, staring at the cars passing by. Or somehow staring beyond the street. On her table, a glass of iced tea, an ash tray and a ream of cigarettes. She doesn’t have a bag nearby.

I qualify my time by the number of pages I read in the book I brought with me. I qualify her time by the sticks of cigarettes she smokes. Her iced tea has taken thirty pages from my book before it’s gotten half-empty.

Her gaze is empty. No excitement, worry, hesitations, urgency. Just as how my posture is, although I know my excitements, worries, hesitations and urgencies. I cannot find her a story.

Three famous schools in the city have concluded another school-year.

On my way to work, my phone sounded an alarm. When I thought it was a mundane message from my boss, it was a greeting from a good friend whom I last seen in December 2003. It made me smile in relief and grace. In response to the gesture, I sent a message to another good friend from my previous work, saying hi, saying she’s remembered and missed. I asked when I can meet her.

In reading, I come across the word “reeds.” It strikes me. Like a plastic doll loosened from the clasp of seaweeds, resurfacing, I suddenly remember “The Bittern.”

I grab my notebook and pen and write the poem from memory. This is what I remember:
Because I have turned my head in years in order to see the bittern, I won’t mind not finding what I am looking for as long as I know it could be there....

In the end I see nothing. But how I go blindly on loving a life from which something is missing... clouds rushing across the sun, gold blowing down on the reed, nothings like these...

I wonder what the girl in front of me is remembering. I wonder what she painstakingly tries to forget. What is she waiting for? What is her dilemma for the day?

Memory is an organ. The past is a limb, an appendage. There are no lost time, only excess baggage, baggage of regrets and anxiety. What truly separates us human beings from others is that organ. That’s what makes us so vulnerable, powerful, amazing.

Talks of time, to me, is talks of mortality. When I was in grade school, it was an agony for me to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning, bring myself to shower in the freezing water and think of boring classes that seems to last an eternity. I conceived of mean classmates and poor performance on P.E. class. I thought of ways on how a school day might be cancelled, but I could only think of storm. And when the season was desiccated, I thought of death. I would escape recitations in long division and Philippine History--I would escape making dreary projects--by thinking I might be dead before my name is called in the random list of speakers; I would think I might be dead before any project’s deadline. I would think I might be dead in sleep anyway, so why worry about tomorrow. But death didn’t work as a consolation, as it never came. And so as the feared recitation and the project’s submission nears, I would become a desperate child who would give up everything so as to turn back time.

In one film, it is said that time truly stops when at a moment of magnificence, yet what is not explained to us is how after that moment, time continues from where it stopped at a great speed that it is difficult to catch up. The clock is trickier than the spider web. We may weave our own time as an absolute time is weaved for us.

Each of us has our own bell jar where we want a moment encapsulated. For memory to have a body, we create songs, paintings, poems. But even art is not immortal, only stronger.

Somehow this life is justified, because it cannot be otherwise. What do we need immortality for, and perfection? What is life for if nothing is missing? In such life, ours, fantasy and myth exist because we make them alive; because they are necessary more than they are natural. Magic and beauty can be lived, as believed.

I read the last sentence of the book. I close it, clear my table and prepare myself to leave. I glance in front of me, through the glass pane. The girl is gone and there are two people now sitting on the table she has left.

18 April 2004

Owning the Maze

The more I go to places, the more I know names of streets and cities--when I get to picture the block behind the block I am in--the more the world becomes small. All seems simple and conquerable. Although the more you know, the more you have to know.

After almost ten years of not going there, I went to Divisoria again this morning with my mother and father. It looks and smells the same as Baclaran except for the horses and Chinese, and it's farther from home; it must also be a better place to shop as my parents prefer going there.

When I got there, I remembered. When we got to the narrow street that has a stall which sells nuts, I remembered going there when I was a kid with my cousins who lived in San Andres and Pandacan. It was there that my mother bought kasoy and Pili nuts. On the other block, a store which sells chocolates.

Divisoria was dirty, crowded and inconvenient; but we got out of it with lots of chocolates and I got two beautiful bags for Php500. My mother haggled with the Chinese owner. The woman only liked to give the bags for as low as Php570. My mother with all her skills turned then walked away, dramatically. After a few steps, the woman shouted at her--"sold!". Mama got the bags and the Chinese woman angrily snatched the 500 pesos in mama's hand.

I would love to shop there on my own. For a thousand pesos, I could have so much, but that is something I think unimaginable for me. I can never haggle the way my mother can. I can never get out of Divisoria with 2 good bags for 500 pesos.

Claiming Manila, acquainting myself with its every inch and corner, memorizing routes and buildings, makes me feel healthy and wise. It's like I have enough knowledge to get me through to the next region, even the next uncharted territory. Knowing the ins and outs of Manila is like mastering a portion of a maze; you know enough dead ends to avoid and some short cuts for future convenience, but there's still so much work to reach exit.

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