“So when are you going home?” my mother asked me, and I’d respond, “Soon”. Pausing for a while and I would look around the house and I’ll say, “Am I not home yet?”
Holy Week (actually, it’s just Holy Days – Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) is just one of those rare times – when the date on the calendar is red – that I am able to set foot on the place where I grow up as a kid. It’s one of the seven municipalities of Sarangani Province which is just an hour away from the city stretching along the pretty beaches of Sarangani Bay. The name, which ironically describes the place, is called “Maasim” – an unfortunately funny term occasionally asked as a humour by the “city people” if it is of reference to its constituent’s faces – because when translated to English, it would mean “Sour”.
I’ve always admired the simple beauty of this town. This was the place that brought witness to my sweet childhood experiences that moulded me for being what I am now.
It was in the year 1992, I was barely six years old, when my pregnant Mey (a lazy, shortened name we call for my mommy) and my two year old reticent brother finally decided to settle in this town after moving from three places. In this town also lives a local who, my mother never seen for more than half a decade – my grandmother. “Luningning” (light) was her name; she figuratively gave us light in times of darkness. She gave us shelter, food and livelihood. She has this big “carenderia” – a local restaurant near the supermarket frequently visited by travellers where you get to choose your orders by opening the lid of every cauldron displayed on the counter. Also near the carenderia is the open sea where we immediately took a dip and my first taste of seawater – actually it’s a drink of seawater because I’ve drowned that time. The “carenderia” became our first “house”.
On my first few days as a stranger of this town, I never gained friends right away; other kids didn’t want to talk to me because I speak so much Tagalog that they don’t understand me at all. It was only me and my cuddly, little brother Janjan whom I can play with till dusk. Sometimes my cousin Hogan would join us since he understands the dialect we’re using. However, I still yearned playing with the girls outside the “carenderia”; my cousin and my brother played too much of robots talking with each other. I started to wonder about the baby inside my Mey’s womb. Would it be a girl or a boy? I wished it’s a girl.
I don’t remember how long it took for me to befriend those girls but pretty soon enough, I was at last invited to join Hide and Seek. We played on a place we called “Landing Fish” (which made me question the validity of the phrase when I was able to learn English) where ropes from the fishing vessel were tightly tied up towards the column of the building to hold it in place. Months past and that place became my playground for Chinese Garter, text cards, rubber bands, tin cans, holed slippers, toys, and boys whom one of them I remember I hit below his belt. Mey would sometimes, if not every day of the week, shout from afar to catch my attention to go home for supper. There was a time when I became so stubborn I just ignored her calls that she herself angrily picked me up and my boxful of text cards which I’ve won for days – and brought it to the blazing fire in the kitchen. Since then, I never played with text cards again.
My grandmother, I don’t know if it’s out of generosity or annoyance for having new mouths to feed – gave us a small shop four stores away from the “carenderia”. This shop became our new house where we sell fresh bananas and other fruits for a living.
Christmas came and then three days later, in the middle of a cold night; the dogs were howling and the Neem Tree leaves violently rustling, Mey suddenly woke up. Seeing her getting up that late was odd, so I followed her. I saw her holding her very round belly while struggling to knock on our grandmother’s “carenderia”. I overheard she was asking for “Nang Germa”, our cook’s mother who knows a traditional massage. I thought she was about to give birth, an hour later and yes she did. It was a baby girl – my wish granted.
When my sister was born, I felt like I have a new baby doll. I was always excited that Mey would let me babysit for Sarah so I can also play with her. Finally after a year, she allowed me to carry her and it felt so wonderful that I forgot holding a baby was a responsibility. One day, Mey left me with Sarah and I took the chance of pretending to be like Mey; I was feeding my sister with – I can’t remember what – when the glass of water fell under the table…followed by her. Four years later, on our way home from school, she also chased our lunch box that fell from the tricycle we rode. If babysitting was a subject in my grade school class, I might have failed it.
On the other hand, if I failed with babysitting my sister, I know exactly how I succeeded with my brother, though not in babysitting but through modelling – literally. It was me who taught him how to pose in front of our under-the-daylight-only-to-get-good-pictures film camera. I taught him to simply place his hand on his waist and smile, which he made him hate me today by the way. But I was so proud about that as much as I am proud of his talent in creating robots and transformers out of laundry clips.
Back home, Mey never told us stories before bed, we made our own stories through blankets strung on the wall to become a tent or a camp. Back home, we don’t have much toys, we made our own toys from the ladles and pots in the kitchen to the clips and soap bubbles in the laundry. Back home, we don’t have the pool where we learned our swimming lessons, we have the very wide sea. Back home, we don’t have the fruit basket on the table, we sold it. Back home, it was only my sister, my brother, Mey and me, but it was a complete happy family.
So, am I not home yet? No, I am home wherever in the world my family is.
Home- where the wheels are turning
Home- why I keep returning
Home- where my world is breaking in two
Home- with the neighbors fighting
Home- always so exciting
Home- were my parents telling the truth?
Home- such a funny feeling
Home- no-one ever speaking
Home- with our bodies touching
Home- and the cam’ras watching
Home- will infect what ever you do
We’re Home- comes to life from outa the blue