Memories are two-edged sword. It’s who we are. And yet there are also memories, if we can, we would choose to forget
I knew this little girl from my childhood. We grew up together, starting from when she came home to the little barrio in the mountains where we knew each other and became friends. We lived on a small barrio nestled between mountains until we were old enough to leave.
We played a lot of what the children of this generation would call ‘the classic’ games. Yet, often she goes playing with the boys and I’m left alone to play with little Brownie, Spotty, Breeze and Blackie, my puppy’s mother.
The times she and I play together, we usually have a lot of fun. We climb trees, swim in the river or lie down on the grass and look up at the sky. We tell silly stories or share the funny little things the village fool mumbles to himself. Or maybe talk about the bible stories we read and listened to at church.
Everytime, I look forward to playing with her.
She has this lovely long black hair which her mother takes care of using natural coconut oil, it shines under the sunlight. Her eyes are like marbles on her face and she laugh out loud often at the smallest antics with her unique shrilling voice. She’ll jump like crazy with their dogs. When she sulk, she’ll read one of her favorite dogeared books and would not budge even if there’s a fire.
I’m not really fun of books, I always wanted to play so during those times I left her alone with her books of talking pigs or birds, waterfalls, pies, little girls and a lot more.
At my young age, I knew her mom is usually away but maybe she got used to it, even like it. She eats and sleeps with her lola. I often sense she’s much happier when her mother is away. That, I could not understand.
I never saw her father and neighbors told me she has one but he lives with his second family.
See, when my mom goes to the fields, I want to go with her and when my mom says no, I cry. That is why I can’t understand her when she smiles that secret smile whenever her mother goes away.
It was years later that I came to understand her and I am narrating in her stead. She did gave her permission that if I recognize her star in the sky I can write her story.
I woke up from a dream I could not remember and when I opened my eyes, there her star brightly shining on my open window.
We had named a star after us during one of those nights lying on the ground to watch the sky but most nights we could not recognize it.
She has long forgiven but sometimes she still cries when she remembers. It no longer hurts she says and the scar on her heart is all that’s left to remind her that she was once that little girl who was, in her own words abandoned, on a market.
She said the memories are vivid to ignore, she was barely 5 years old then and she could have made it up. Who knows what goes on in the mind of a 5 year old girl?
I wondered what was my memories when I was 5. Yes, I remember falling on the riprap that serves as a fence near our house and scraping my hands or the time when my cousin put on a hot rod on my hand, I cried so much. I knew it happened because I can see the scar on my left arm.
At 5, some of my memories are vivid and some are fuzzy. I kind of understand what she meant. But could a little girl make something up? How can Freud explain the genuine pain in her eyes or the tears that unknowingly rolled down when she told me the story? It was too late when she noticed she was crying.
It was a full moon that night, with wineglasses in hand, we sat on that concrete steps of the house which we were renting in the city. The bottle of wine stood forlornly at one side while the story began.
I turned around and saw the cauliflowers, a huge woman stood watching over her it and several more others. Spread on the sidewalk are huge green cauliflowers, brocollis, green peas, carrots, and some other leaves I could not recognized. I watched fascinated as she wrapped the cauliflowers on a newspaper like she’s wrapping a christmas gift, put it on a plastic container and handed it to the lady buyer. The woman standing beside me handed back few coins in exchange and left.
After watching the grocer for a few more moments, I have lost my enthusiasm and then I looked around for my mother but they were nowhere near where I am. Frantically, I searched with my eyes but could not find them.
I came with my mother and another woman from the boarding house where we live. I ran up and down the slopes mumbling “mama, mama” but they were nowhere to be seen. I saw the huge cathedral where we come to attend sunday masses and I ran inside, maybe they went for a prayer but the huge church was empty. The pews were vacant although the lights were on. I stood there for a long time looking at the lighted altar.
Then I ran outside again, now tears falling from my eyes blurring my vision. How will I go home? I looked at the faces of strangers passing by as I stood on that uphill market, no one seems to notice I was lost. I can feel the fear rising and I sobbed more.
The huge woman earlier is now packing her unsold goods, neatly arranging them on a tray with cushions. Lovingly stacking them up one after another.
I started to walk aimlessly, I must have cried for a long time because my tears had now dried on my face. I can taste the salty remnants on my lips as I pulled my shirt to wipe off my nose. The night had already descended and the streets started to fill with people.
I look at the strangers faces and saw pity in their eyes. And I unknowingly I felt sorry for myself. Pity is the worst feeling to give and to recieve.
I desperately tried to remember the pathway we walked that would lead me to the boarding house. The signages, anything that would lead me back to the riverside, wooden house we live in. We live on one of its small rooms with a common bathroom and toilet located outside. This is shared by the tenants. I do not know how many. How can I go home?
I started to walk aimlessly.
I cried a lot more as my feet carried me through darkened alleys, pass the small church, down several narrow concreted steps. Turned on a bend and passed by the piggery where one of the pigs there gave birth to fifteen piglets a few days ago. I knew all this maybe because I would pass by and talk to the pregnant pig then. She had such lovely pink skin.
I passed by more houses with their warm lights on, music coming from stereos.
Then pass another set of piggeries. I didn’t like this one. The owner doesn’t take good care of his pigs and the aweful smell of pig dung can reach high heavens and the pigs here are noisy.
They call this place slaughterhouse, a slum area. This is where most of the poor of the city lives. Students, beggars, market sellers, thieves, ex-convicts and the other decrepits of the city. But mostly the houses are rented to students from different provinces studying at the universities that abounds the city.
The houses are made up of chunks of g.i. sheets as roofing and woodplanks as sidings. There were a few concrete houses standing amidst the unsightly scene.
People die here once a month. Some thief killed by another thief or a wife by her abusive husband or an ex-convict salvaged by a police officer and so on.
I knew all that from the stories at the boarding house, a two-storey wooden structure with lots of darkened rooms. They often tell us not to wonder so far away from tbe boarding house when we go out playing in the neighborhood.
I momentarily forgot I was crying as I balanced myself on a small rock on the open drainage that connects to a small river. When it rains, the water from the whole city flows down towards the river. And most of the house owners drains their waste to it. One wrong step and I would end up with the city’s filth.
Often times we fish out several pingpong balls, a balloon or a pair of shoes. One day, someone spotted a man’s body that brought the police.
By now, I knew from memory I am almost upon the boarding house. I started crying again for no reason at all. I walked on the narrow pathway beside the river embankment and saw the lights to our room. I walked faster knowing my mother would be frantic, worried sick about me. I stood on top of the steps landing leading to a common yard where the clothelines are.
There, I saw my mother, illuminated by the 40-watt bulb hanging on one of the clothelines’ pole. She was laughing at some silly joke one occupants of the boarding house had said. She sat beside her friend, the one who accompanied us to the city market.
I stood on that darkened steps as she bantered with those people around her. I felt rooted on that spot as I stood for a long, long time. The narrow landing was dark but my sobs thats is tearing my lungs apart was a floodlight. I feared someone will hear but I could not stop and then someone really did, everyone looked up to where I stood.
They all went silent.
And I could no longer remember what happened next. My memory could not go beyond the pain.
But in my mind I thought maybe they never left me intentionally alone at the market. Maybe they searched for me for a long time too. Maybe they were tired searching so they all went home for a… good laugh. There are a lot of maybe’s.
Maybe my mind is making this all up. I have never seen a movie which everyone is always talking about but maybe that was a sad movie I saw, my first movie. I was just a part of the audience looking at a child which a hole had just started to be drilled on her soul.
The difference was, that hole seems to be part of mine.
When she stopped, silence hung between us. It was palpable. We were both lost in each others thoughts. Hers, going back to that darkened broken pathwalk, open drainage, filthy river, dark landing.
I, lost in my own myriad of emotions. Not wanting to recognize that her mother had onced tried abandoning this child, my playmate. The child who exuded so much vivrè, so much thirst for life, who chases her dreams to the ends even if she stumbled a million times, who laugh so hard.
Becoming a single mother during the 80’s was like going through hell, you become a phariah, disinherited, disowned, the talk of the town and looked down like some slut. It would indeed test a woman’s courage.
But born into this world was never the choice of the child. It was the choice of both parents. The topic will remain debatable for generations to come and a sensitive issue altogether.
But one thing is sure, a mistake can never be corrected by another mistake. It will just create a huge gap that no bridge can fill.
We sat there in silence for a long time, looking up at the stars from our childhood, the bottle now stood empty.
That was years ago, she and I had long been apart and I wish with all my heart she’ll find that one true love that would fill the void in her soul.#