Monday, October 27, 2008

Of Flying Kites and Broken Hearts

One humid afternoon I was perched up on my usual spot in our balcony, reading this book that I recently bought (The Great Cities/Tokyo, from Time-Life Books) and it had a centerfold about kites and their significance to the Japanese culture. Considered as more than just a toy, their traditional kites had symbols of good omen painted on and are used as a way of communicating with the gods, specifically for giving thanks.

In the centerfold was a photograph of the late master kite-maker Tako Hashimoto and his wife at work in their living-room. Like a child whose fondness for color overcomes any sense of reason, I became absorbed in the photo’s myriad of hues and my mind drifted to the old kite-maker that we also had back in our hometown village. His name was Danggay. When the school year ended and the rice fields begin to turn into the golden yellow of summer, the children at our village and the nearby barangays would always look for him in his house near the river, offering him all sorts of payment just so he’d make them a kite: packs of cigarettes, a can of sardines, bags of guavas, ridiculously false flatteries. The children’s smiles, however, were enough for him and he was only too glad to oblige just so he could watch their faces light up when he hands them their personalized kites.

Danggay was also hopelessly in love with a village resident’s household maid. Perhaps she was always in his mind while he was whittling away at the bamboo sticks during those endless summer afternoons, while shaping and measuring the wax paper, while giving form, all painted and colorful, to the empty frame. Perhaps whenever those children smile, it was her smile that he sees, winding and dancing its way into the longings of his heart. Perhaps it was really for her every time he made his beautiful kites, for ever since that time when she chose the coconut farmer over him, he never made kites again.

Seeing kites flying always gives me mixed emotions: a part of me cheers up for it always reminds me of those hot summer days of childhood, yet another part of me turns melancholic, somewhat longing for another chance at those days when everything had been easy and uncomplicated and beautiful. Had Danggay been Japanese and shared similar beliefs, he probably would have made himself the biggest kite he could ever make and, in that wide span of paper, poured out all his sadness and asked the gods for the household maid’s love. If I could have my way, I would make one for every Danggay in the world and fly them all at the same time so that, in their vibrant crowding of the skies, the gods won’t have a reason to overlook them. Love could burn stronger than the sun itself, but there will always be the kites to ease the twinges so that love could still glow for the gods to see. Perhaps one day, the household maid will see it, too.

another roadside attraction

This has got to be the biggest butt on the biggest literally butt-naked statue (my head reaches only up to its upper thigh part) I have ever seen. If J. Lo’s was insured for a million dollars, this one would require an insurance equal to the annual budget of a small-sized country.

This photo was taken from a seafood restaurant somewhere in Pangasinan during a trip home from one of my adventures up north. I was munching on a bunch of green grapes bought from a roadside vendor on the outskirts of Ilocos Sur while riding past the vast rice fields, all green and gold and ready for the summer harvest. It was a hot summer afternoon, Yann Tiersen’s playing on my iPod, and everything was perfect.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Keep Within Reach of Children

The Grinch and I are somewhat kindred spirits: we were both found in a dump. That is, I was according to my older siblings who are not exactly the most reliable sources in the world when it comes to my origin as a member of the family. Add the fact that the dump is not the only place where I had supposedly come from. Included in the list are the carabao’s mud pit, the house fence where I was “hung by my real parents”, the bamboo grove, and that I came with a newly-ordered Tupperware container. Such is the peril of being the youngest in our family.

I had found the Grinch while I was rummaging through a dusty heap of books and clothes at a flea market. I had lifted off a thick fur coat (God only knows how one can wear a thing like that here in the tropics) from the pile and there he was, grinning like an imp with that sneaky sideways glance of his, in his entire green and red splendor as if he doesn’t care if someone picks him up, unlike those obese teddy bears pushing their swollen tummies forward in an effort to look more visible to prospective buyers. How can I not fall in love?

I bought him (with love being sold at a bargain price of Php35, it is indeed a wonderful world), brought him home, and washed the many weeks’ worth of dust and dirt off until it seemed to me that, in his cleaner state, his smile grew wider and his eyes brighter and sneakier.

I have never really been fond of stuffed toys. Even when I was a kid, I seldom sleep with one arm curved around a soft furry object. I have always preferred pillows and, when I got older and the hormones started kicking in, the living breathing being of a lover’s body. The Grinch was the only exception, maybe because whenever I cuddle him up the pain of an emerging wisdom tooth lessens, fevers seem to go down a little, melancholia is easier to bear, and the bastards that come and go in my life just become somebody to be laughed at.

The fat-bottomed Grinch is an antithesis to the banal cuteness so often favored by the typical stuffed toy club. He won’t probably be the perfect example of those as-cute-and-as-cuddly-as- you or reminds-me-of-you gifts that guys often give to their girlfriends on Valentine’s Day (imagine the possible effects on the poor girl’s self-esteem). He is in a league that is his own, one which could take a lot of people some time to appreciate. At least in the future one thing’s for sure: after all that’s said and done, he won’t be on that top shelf huddled and gathering dust along with the clique of the former cute toys who are now torn at the seams and have lost their eyes and mouths and glory. He will still be sitting within my reach, smiling that same wide smile, perhaps inwardly laughing at one of my clumsy moves, or silently persuading me to stop dating that loser. Maybe someday I will find someone like him. Someone with a lower waist-to-hip ratio, of course, and a little less green.


The psychologist said it's a chemical imbalance. At times it gets so unbearable that I would sit holding my head with my hands over closed eyes, way down below my knees. I stay that way for minutes, trying to block out every sound, every smell, and I would get that floating sensation of being literally detached from everything around me.

It is like having my own world, my own small planets revolving in my head, darkness with dim spots of light dancing behind my eyes, and I can see myself in the middle of it all, drifting in between those dim spots, a curled up mass of translucent flesh, as though solidity is a foreign word.

I float so lightly that I almost know how the waves of a breathy whisper slowly traverse from lips to ear, or how a tiny falling feather quietly swirls through the air on a tranquil day. The borders of the darkness in my head separate me from the sounds and sensations whirling in the light around me, as though nothing can hurt me, nothing can make me unfurl from my fetal existence, and I am devoid of all the nagging thoughts that plague me when I open my eyes.

It's all so very strange and comforting at the same time, feeling absolute freedom from everything yet dangerously close to insanity that if I totally let go of it, the very serrated line that holds me back will not hesitate to release me. Staying in this state is not for long, even if it means that I will have to bear those unwelcome thoughts back inside the contours of my mind. To stay this way forever is to close my eyes forever. It is not yet the right time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night…

I miss my best friend. It has been months since we last saw each other. Text and online messages are hardly a good substitute for the person who is one of the very few people who could understand even the worst of my idiosyncrasies, tolerate my recurring depressive moods, and who shares my desire to go somewhere far, away from the maddening unwelcome demands of this so-called urban life.

Sharing a room with her back in those dorm days also meant sharing almost everything else: clothes, coffee, books, academic woes (boy, we did have a lot), conversations about the opposite sex, getting into troubles, the list could go on and on. We were the typical girlfriends, but without the irritatingly petty issues like not talking for some time because of an argument or misunderstanding. One incident we can’t get over, however, was when we once entered a store together and the guard greeted us with the requisite “Good morning ma’am, sir.” Up until now we still argue over who between the two of us was the “sir”.

We were a noisy bunch in our dorm room. The security guard had often sounded her shrill whistle up at our window because we were all over the room, shrieking and laughing uncontrollably (with one of our caffeine-saturated roommates literally rolling on the floor) when the other residents were already asleep. So much has changed since those days when we would often go out to watch music gigs and literally sleep in the streets of the campus afterwards while waiting for our dorm to open at six o'clock in the morning, when we had lived for the adrenaline rush. Life requires one to grow up. We knew that we would have to leave our obsession with those rock stars, and the escapades that followed, behind and move on to the real world where the adrenaline rush often last longer than one night, being responsible is not just looking out for each other while on the streets at 4am, and there are a lot more bastards than an entire concert arena could contain.

These days, we are both busy getting our heads in its right working order (what “right’ really means, we’ll never be sure), like two cars at a garage getting their busted aircon fixed or having an entire new coat of paint as if changing colors could guarantee a smoother ride even on rough pavements.

"I demand euphoria!” it says in her Friendster shout-out. Oh, we do, Janneth, we do.