Monday, August 15, 2011

The Roads We Dare to Travel (1)

What if we were to observe everything we pass by when we go home? What if we opened our eyes and actually saw the roads we tread? What if there was something much more to the road most often traveled than what meets the eye?

This is an account of the road from Liceo to my RER house, dated last June 2011.

The streets are crowded with students pouring out of the school gates. Endless chatter of homework, projects, new boyfriends and schedules bombard my ears as I unconsciously plug out the noise. Jeepneys block the pedestrian lanes as their conductors shout a stream of stops they're sure to make. "Carmen, Divisoria, Cogon, Ketkai..." I wait for an opportunity to cross the street or a group of students to cross it with me. Or whichever comes first. The honking of horns and the hum of idle engines steadily provide the background music of the night. A jeepney moves forward slowly and I find the exact moment to safely cross the vehicle strewn streets. The walk was brisk and the headlights glared. The other side of the street welcomed me.

There were students, too, on that side of the street. A few mobile vendors entertained their customers dutifully. They sold fish balls and tempura, kwek-kwek and balot, and even some chicken wings. The sidewalk was wet with the rainfall as well as the spoils of food accidents. I walk past the onlookers without looking up.

The moon was straight ahead, right in the middle of the horizon and the sky. It was almost full with a beautiful glow around it. The clouds have retreated from the night's black canvas and the wind blew a steady, cool breeze.

I step over a hump on the road, one of the many others I will pass by as I walk home. The boys in the church to my right were excitedly shouting and running after a basketball. Some nights they would be on skateboards, rolling around the parking space, and on other nights, the church is just as empty as a silent pocket on a rainy day. The boys tonight were adrenaline pumped, just like the people in the badminton courts to my left.

About nine cars decorate the side of the street near the badminton courts. It was still early so the consistent whacking of the shuttlecock was still strong and audible from the outside. A couple hastily steps out of their car and walks toward the entrance gate. A security guard greets them and leads them in. I passed by the courts quickly, seeking to avoid attention but, alas, the guard catcalls and maliciously says "good evening".

The house on the corner of the street, diagonal to the courts have walls that obscure anyone's vision of the building itself. there was a kind of tree sticking out of one of the walls. A red palm perhaps, although I don't know much about identifying plants.

There was an apartment type boarding house right in front of the high walled house. The boarders there are always on loudspeaker. I hear them talking about their friends and actresses and partying. There is a white metal table resting on its side. The fences lock the table to its place for the meantime. Some nights a group of students gather around that table and have their 'session'. No 'sessions' have taken place lately.

A taxi stops in front of the apartment type boarding house. A car door slams and the headlights turn and disappear ahead of me. I pay attention to another hump in the road.

The darkness engulf me yet I am widely aware of my surroundings. it threatens to make unexplainable noises and sights as I pass by but I do not succumb to fear. The lamp post light flickers eerily. I pass by a convenience store where a group of boys are talking in a language I don't understand.

They're playing music from a source I did not dare to investigate. I sometimes wonder what they're reaction would be if I stopped, turned to them and began dancing to the music they were playing. Of course, I could not and did not and will not do it.

Straight ahead, the road looms endlessly it seemed. There was a pattern of lighting,, lamp post, darkness, lamp post, darkness, lamp post, darkness. A group of students walk past me. The tone of their voices projected a certain worry. It was verging on panic. They were frantic. One was being supported by the shoulder by another. It would seem that somehow, someone might have died.

On I walk, passing yet another hump in the road. The house to my right had a corner balcony and I could see through the glass. A chandelier hung inside their living room. The high ceiling provided a good, clear view of the rooms on the second floor. I could hear running water from behind their walls and assumed that they had a swimming pool or at least a waterfall fixture. And yet, I have never seen any person inside that beautiful house.

Another sari-sari store was busy entertaining a group of boys. They were talking about vacation plans. A loud laugh ensued from the group. The laugh was enough to drown the TB in the background, probably from the apartment beside the store. The lights flickered, and in the momentary darkness, I saw a cat run across the road and disappear into one bush. I walked straight on, knowing my destination is at hand.

Wooden gates separate a friend's house from the outside world. It was a small house when viewed from the outside but I knew enough not to judge appearances. The small portion of the grassy lawn that can be seen through a crack in the fence was as green as a perfectly landscaped golf course, even in the dim light of the lamp post.

I walk this path every night. I see the same houses, the same walls and hear the same undecipherable language as I put one foot in front of the other. The darkness no longer threatens me. the silence is my friend. The cold is my constant companion. The few differences I find when I walk home only appears when it rains. Only on those rare occasions does the long way home seem to embrace me as a part of it. The gentle down pour of water from the sky fill in the silence that is left when the boys and girls in the apartments and the stores leave for warmer shelters. The splash of the water around me reminds me of childhood joys. Ripples from cars moving willfully to their destinations gather waves ready to wash off the dirt of the day, and tears and sadness along with them.

A piano sings from the house on my left. It sings of a memory. It sings of a loss that could no longer be undone. The melody strikes me and I stop for a while, relishing the music, wishing for more, willing to drown in it. However, time is not on my side. The song stops and is followed by eerie silence. I look away from the house and make haste as I approach the last block before I turn toward my new home's street.

As if on cue, a violin responds to the silence and I am stunned at the sadness flowing from the window of another house. I look toward the piano house and listen for its response. there was none. The violin played on. A deep cry ensuing from the strings being passionately played from within the walls of that house. It was about another memory, a loss that could no longer be undone. The song from the violin longed for reciprocation. It longed for the sound of another. For love.

If I could only stand there and listen to the sound of hearts communicating through music, I would have witnessed what everyone would give a few treasures to see: love. If I could only spend a few more minutes in the middle of that road, patiently waiting for the response of the other, I would have witnessed what moviegoers pay to experience once again: love. If I could only close my eyes and see in my heart the longing those two songs have so loudly communicated, I would have chosen to kindle a fire that have so long died in the eyes of the world: love. But I walked away, and I have chosen to stand by the companion the world has been comfortable living with: loss.

It is a rare opportunity to stand in between two hearts and be handed the keys to a love flourishing. It is a rare opportunity to stand in between two hearts and be invited into their story without reserve. But it is rarely or barely often that people given this chance choose to stay and listen. to bear witness and to hold the balance of whether a love will grow or die is a true grift yet it is not responded to rightly. It is not responded to at all.

I turn away from the lovers and tread the last stretch of pavement toward my house. It is still dark. It is still quiet. The guardhouse ahead stares with lights like angry eyebrows. I smile as I realize I have almost tripped on another hump. The boys near another store laugh at something their friend said. The woman in one of the houses call her children for dinner. A security guard rides his bike to the other guardhouse. All of them oblivious to the passing of time. All of them Oblivious to the things that could have been.

As I approach the black gate with the 'Beware of Dog' sign, I remember what our landlady told us. "I only placed that sign so people would at least fear the dog. In truth, the dog doesn't even bark at strangers." The dog will only lick you to death. And yet, the world still fears the sign. Carefully removing the padlock, the gate creates a rusty loud noise. Quickly, as if to lessen the duration of the noise, I close it again after slipping in and locking the gate once more.

The rooms are all dark. The sound of electric fans hum through the screen windows. A cellphone beeps. A bed creaks. The signs of sleep are all around. And yet, I find myself staring at my brightly lit room, just standing there, in the corner, trying to imagine what life could have been, what life used to be when I wasn't so alone.

-Hannah Lyn C. Creencia
author, 'The Roads We Dare to Travel' (unfinished and unpublished)

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