First comes anxiety, a flurry of internal movement, then comes the urge to run. To run is to search for stillness. Where to is a matter of nostalgia.
I face Espanya distracted by the varicolored glare of headlights and lampposts, shop signs and the remnants of rain on the asphalt. It is rush hour. I cannot rush home. I stare at the jeepneys inching past me, and curse the smoke-belchers, the traffic, and the insufficiency of public transportation. Minutes pass, then an hour. I flag down a rundown FX, and it begins to rain again.
It is still raining when I get to UP Diliman. Louder and louder goes the downpour, drowning out the sound of car honks and students’ chatter and the mountaineers’ footfalls on the pavement. I walk around the acad oval, red umbrella in hand, and hum a tune that sounds like mourning in my head. But all I can hear outside me is the pattering of rain. I think about these tree-lined avenues, a compendium of memories. Looking up I can make out pictures woven into the branches’ netted silhouettes. Each acacia tree has heard a tale, a word for every leaf, a secret for every seed. I have planted enough stories here to call it home.
I have walked this road a thousand times. Weather and circumstance may change, but some things never do. The distance between lampposts remains constant; joggers still count 2.2-kilometer rounds. The Sunken Garden sinks about two centimeters every year; lovers lying low in its shadows sink deeper. Students hang out at the AS Steps; AS may never be called PH. Fares may go up and routes may vary, but the Ikot jeep still goes round and round and round. The acacia trees have been here forever and I hope they always will.
I have trudged from the concrete veins of UP to the riverbanks of Marikina, traversed mountains, forded rivers, and clambered along seaside crags, but the walk I most remember is the one I made across the boundary of two cities, from P. Noval to Araneta. One Friday afternoon in July, the trains stopped working, so all the commuters took to the road. I had just come from work. I was wearing a dressy top and a pair of wedge heels, even had make-up on. I had wanted to visit my favorite bookstore, then treat myself to a nice dinner and a movie. But the trains took no passengers, and all the buses and cabs and jeepneys were full. And so I walked. It was raining. I walked a distance of three kilometers that felt like a light-year. I didn’t go to the bookstore anymore, or eat dinner, or watch a movie. I remember crying on the bus ride home, when I finally caught a bus ride home.
I walked because more than an hour had passed and I still couldn’t flag down a ride. I walked because I hated waiting. I walked because the sight of all the cars whizzing past me as I stood by the roadside under the rain made me feel so helpless and then so angry thatI.Just. Had. To. Walk.
The other night found me walking along Commonwealth from Central to Philcoa, against cold wind and darkness pierced by headlights, for the same reasons.
There is nothing like the feeling of being stuck, in place and in the grey space of waiting. If you say, stay, I’ll say, until when? There is a world of difference between being told, “I’ll pick you up in an hour,” and suspending time while holding no such surety. In the latter case, of course, time never really stops—only, there are no minutes to count down, no paths to trace, no expectation, only the sense of the interminable and the hope that one hour doesn’t turn to two, maybe three. In such cases, I have always preferred to walk rather than wait. Often it doesn’t matter where to, as long as I am moving. After all, I find no stillness in standing still.
One day I woke up and announced that I would be leaving the place that, for the past year, I had called home. “Why?” they asked. “I just feel like it,” I said. Later that day, I would come up with excuses that made more sense: I needed to save up, I hardly ever stayed in that pad anyway, I wanted to spend more time with my family. But the truth is that one morning I woke up and felt like leaving, and so I did.
I loved that place, my fine garret, with its white walls and burnished wooden floors, its lone window that afforded the view of a moon that seemed nearer than the side street below. I loved the sense of solitude and detachment it gave me, the way it made me feel as if I vanished from the world whenever I ascended the two narrow stairways that led to a heavy wooden door that I always bolted behind me.
Indeed, far too often I had found myself lying on my apartment’s mahogany floor and staring at the dark ceiling and thinking about all the things I could and should be doing but wasn’t, or looking out of the dusty window thinking, what the hell am I doing, looking out of this stupid window, or thinking how pretty the sunset was and wishing it would last forever and then wondering how it would be to live under an eternal mauve-magenta sky. I would think about clichés.
I loved that place, but a year of comfort felt too long.
I stopped dead in the middle of an overpass one night, an island in the traffic of commuters. I couldn’t decide which way to go.
To my left lay the way home, but before home was interminable waiting, the issue of rush hour and roadblocks and rain.
The road to the right led to somewhere, anywhere else.
In the middle of the overpass, I stopped, collateral damage, a pregnant silence, awkward metaphor.
Anchored in the middle of the overpass I watched the river of headlights down below flow on, dense spillage to the left, swift currents to the right.
Once, I rode a jeepney and got so lost in thought that I had traveled several miles before I realized that I’d missed my stop. It’s strange, the calm one finds in the state of being in transit, when neither origin nor destination beckons—no regret or hurry, only time suspended.
I decided to go somewhere, anywhere else.
Monday, 9:43 p.m.While crossing C.P. Garcia on the way to my new home, I got hit by a car. Or it hit my backpack where my ribcage had been a second or two before. The bystanders around me were outraged—at the state of the road, at the driver, at me. I was sad. I was tired. I was either not thinking or thinking too much, but whichever the case, I didn’t care.
It was one of those nights—they never cease—that make the days that follow them a choice between moving and not moving. Do I carry on today, pick up from yesterday, or do I fling myself from some height and cease the nights, the questions, the moving?
I woke up at 6 a.m.and spent all of Tuesday morning in bed pretending the car had hit me and I was dead. I grieved over my demise, and was disgusted with myself for the indulgence. So I buried the corpse in the mattress and got moving.
One night in December, right before dinner, I excused myself and said I’d go to the corner store to buy Coke Zero for the family. Instead, I ran my feet raw to the village playground and perched on a swing. I remember making of myself a pendulum, caught in wild highs and lows, and wishing I were more like a steady metronome. I remember tears. I do not remember what for. I cry over many things, few of them important, and so I try not to bother to take note, as I am self-absorbed as it is.
The one nice thing about walking in the lightless part of the subdivision at night is that if you look up you can see the faint, fixed light of stars. This time of the year, when houses burn with reds and golds and greens that flicker and scatter and scream, all I want is to stroll around and lose myself in a place where it is not too noisy and not too bright, where there is no loneliness or panic in solitude, and I can sit in a corner and be.
What is the sense of movement? If only I could stand atop a mountain, in the heart of a forest, and be the mountain, the forest: monuments of subtle changes that keep steady, rooted—for all their quivering, still.
Author’s note: I added a couple of paragraphs to this piece.