Dozens of rubber slippers all over the entrance landing. The white tiles were littered with gravel picked up by the in-betweens of rubber soles. Who knows where anyone has been. Children ran past me, eyes never stopping to look, too busy with the world they've built. To the left of the stairs was a wide doorway which opened to an ongoing celebration.

People inside the house were smiling. The sun seemed to penetrate even the back of throats, the furthest of corners. It was the feeling of seeing people for the first time in years. It was the feeling of reunion. There might have been a casket, an altar, or a birthday cake but I couldn't see past the gathering. Maybe it's all of the three together.

I didn't know what they were celebrating. Everyone looked familiar but I knew not one name. It was a good day to be at home.


--


I think and I think. I am drowned by choices that my inclination, for so long, was to choose none of them.

When I closed my eyes, blobs of blackness floated behind my eyelids. Stop. Halt. Someone's telling me this is where it stops. There is no life for you here. We've conquered this body, and you can't save what's left of it.

It wasn't like that at first. When the blobs came, I thought they meant well. In whispers they said try harder, you are nothing and nobody without this life. The blobs danced and blocked everything that was in front of me.


--


Many people consider déjà vu as signposts from a parallel life. They are markers that greenlight you when divergent paths lay ahead. It's a forked road and once you walk forward in your awakeness, you've chosen this life instead of the other.

In this waking dream, this is what you've chosen. But in another dream, the Other walks a different path, and so on and so forth, until your collective dream ends. You've chosen not one, but all of them all at once.


--


A face smiles behind a mask. The thing opens its mouth. It makes unnerving gestures unreal and inhuman. From behind the camera, you couldn't tell the mask was made of retaso cloth held together using a glue gun. Cut. Good take. We packed up to move to the next location. The overcast sky began to shed small droplets of rain. With the next sequence also another challenging exterior, and all our equipment needing extra care (they didn't belong to us), we decided to drop by a friend's house near the area to charge all drained batteries as we waited out the drizzle.

We turned a corner, and that was where I saw the house from my dream. There were people in the open area. There were slippers in the landing. There were children playing.

I said nothing to anyone. We walked a little further.

When we passed by the house again, it was almost deserted. Only dogs rested by the staircase.

It was no longer a happy house from my dream. It was real and it was alive. I took a step forward.


--


This was just one of the many strange occurrences and other coincidences that happened to me recently. Too convoluted to write about, too crazy to be remotely believable. Just know that, like prayers, when a question is answered, believe it.

May your signposts guide you well.


The sound of two women in a dizzying dream-babble chant fills my thoughts. I sat a few pews behind the pair in a church older than my great, great, great grandfather. Outside, Campanario de Dumaguete gathers a hoard of tourists who found it near impossible to approach the belltower without being peddled by pesky locals to buy colored candles or veils of small, sweet smelling flowers. In the 1800s, the belfry was once a watchtower that guarded the entire city from pirates and no-good men with big intentions. Today, the tower of stone is guarded by a stationary Virgin Mary in blue and white.

The prayers were bound with the strictness of scientific precision: a dull, mechanical routine: like a language spoken by those who knew how the world worked; yet brought to life with romance: falling in love, a whirlwind of uncertainties and dark, twisted fantasies, like a language spoken by daydreamers. In reality, they were speaking in mother tongue: a softer, localized variation of Cebuano, the language spoken by people living in between modern disintegration and rural decay.

When they moved to clutch their rosaries in a different manner, facing a different saint this time, their gray veils fluttered over their thick lace dresses.

This was five years ago.

Dumaguete is a city lost to me. For some time while living there, I dragged my feet around the empty halls of my old university. I wandered in circles through the usual seaside thoroughfares where kids drink, smoke, and fuck themselves senseless. Once, I was in an absinthe flurry and going home somewhere else. He drove around with the top down in triumph: Here's my trophy. I was staring at the white ceiling, tinged to dark blue from a source of light that escapes me now. Nobody knows this, but there was a bigger wall that enclosed us other than the pillow I used as a soft but unmoving barrier to stop him from moving over to my side. (Almost a year later, he would tell the story differently. So I lived in Dumaguete through the whispers and gossip of the dead-bored and lonely: I was another trophy. What else could we have done?) In the morning, with a clarity that hit me hard: I continued to feel: there is nothing for me here.

So it was that I beelined myself out of there with tongues lolling and people laughing awkwardly from a joke they made in disbelief to me leaving. One dared me to. I still remember her, and remember her face when she said it. It is the only remaining mental picture I have of her. I do not like to be dared.

I still came back, but like before, I always left.

If somewhere is too good to be true, somewhere that does not oppose you or rip you to pieces or scare you, then leave. That somewhere will be too easy to conquer—watchtowers or without.


2016





In the weeks leading to my self-imposed removal from Dumaguete, I would walk from my dorm in Laguna to visit the old cathedral across Quezon Park. I would, years later, write about sitting there, thinking about life after Dumaguete, listening to the murmurs of two women with heads hidden under black veils. 

Nine years since I first arrived, I’m back in the same cathedral listening to the murmurs of my mind’s collective defiance to blissful, uninterrupted silence. (Cathedrals here still hold the magic they’ve already lost in big cities.) Each visit always ends with lighting candles—yellow for courage, red for peace, brown for healing. Here’s to hoping that when I come back home, there will be fire.



2019



I don't remember much from my childhood. Things I remember could fit in a box so small its contents can be carried by a child, left in a room, and forgotten.

I do remember being a little shithead. Not buying toyo from the sari-sari store nearby because I was afraid my schoolmates would see me and my family for who we were: poor. Across our house was an expensive private school where I, my brother, and all my cousins attended. Even when I called in sick, I still felt like I was attending flag ceremony in the morning. By 3 o'clock I could hear my classmates playing in the school yard.

Because the school was so close to our house, my memory of home was always interrupted by the bell from the school guard house. The guard on duty would ring the bell three, five times every hour, every night. The last bell rang at sunrise. The school owners also lived near, so they always knew when he had slept during his duty.

My mother worked at a government office. Every month, minus tax and loans, she came home with no more than 5,000 pesos. In the grocery store, fearing she had maxed out her credit card, her hands would shake. Most of the time, the machine said Approved. How she managed to pay for private school, my brother and I don't know.

She was never a house mother. I remember my mother cooking runny sunny side-ups and french toast. That was about her culinary prowess during my entire childhood. My grandmother (father side) used to scold my mother because all there ever was in the fridge were hotdogs, sugary cereal, and chocolate spread. My grandmother would then cook fish that tasted like the sea; I dreaded her every return.

I always wore thrift store clothes during school wash days.  There was a time when my classmate and I raided a classroom while everyone else was at flag ceremony. I stole shoes from this lanky girl a grade below us. I wore them three months later, and somebody had managed to snap a photo of me wearing them during Foundation Days. I was called out of class a few times to talk to the prefect of discipline. Though we tried to lie our way out of it, I got an F for conduct. That was my first failing grade. The same school year, even though we didn't have much, I was allowed to skip Junior Prom to watch a Fall Out Boy concert in Metro Manila. The rest of the year was a blur.



The other times I was taken out of class wasn't for conduct. It was for extra-curricular activities. Every year, there would be barn dances, school plays, and writing competitions. 

When I was in Grade 3, I wrote a short story for English class. My teacher called me to her table and asked if I wrote it. My mom had replaced some words in it, big words for a child, but the rest of it was mine. I told my teacher that it was me, just me who wrote the story. I was sent to other schools for writing competitions ever since. A few years later, when I began winning awards, she told me "I knew you'd be a writer." Until now, it still feels like I cheated.

I was never the star of school plays. I was always stage crew or props maker. I loved being behind the stage, and I could never sing or memorize lines or perform onstage to save my life. More than theater, I loved being pulled out of class for extra-curriculars. Those were the things I lived for.

--

Part 1 of 3
All photos taken in 2010, senior year



1.    When the old gods made us, two of them argued about the placement of our noses. One wanted our nose to face the sun, to catch rain. They talked for many days. It seemed the god who wanted our nostrils to face the sky—was winning. Before we were baked, the other god secretly took our nose from our uncooked bodies, and turned it upside down. These days, we are less likely to drown when it rains.

2.    When men piss in public, they wave their penises around like a slow-moving flag. When the water begins to rise during a storm, it smells like piss everywhere in the city. The city is one big toilet.







3.    In our bathroom, there are two drains. One near the door, and another was a gash in the corner that goes to an open canal. Every month, the blood drips down my leg and runs in circles on the white tiled floor. I watch the bloody puddle at my feet before I wash it away to the hole in the dark corner.




The sun sets on a moonlight afternoon
human beings filing themselves
to a corner:
sometimes, singing,
something else
        In   Bloom.

Wings wide open, flying
we find ourselves in gardens
people with mild opinions,
our agreeable neighbors.

Leaves must have sprouted
in place of words
mint basil sativa
greater Saturns, wider worlds.

This is where you belong:
intermittent romance
childhood knowing, music
of our golden mornings.

Never known
under shoulders,
life better
than worlds you're carrying.

Laughter permeates far corners.


1.    Silence is a loud knock on the door, somebody outside telling you to work to pay the bills, to confront anger, to forgive your mom.

2.    I once read or heard from somewhere that in conversations, people are only waiting for their turn to talk.

3.    We were standing right out on the street, the midnight concrete glowed orange, wet with rain. He was speaking on the phone, walking in circles. He told us he needed to go. He hailed a taxi, and they sped away to the direction of the caller. Somebody had seen him walking around without a head, but nobody said anything.

4.    Silence is something you can weigh. The most common of its kind is heavy, acidic. The kind that turns into a ball you can puncture during therapy.

5.    Every time somebody says the phrase 'dead air', a bird flies into a glass window and dies instantly.

6.    False. People are waiting to be listened to.

7.    When somebody is on the brink of addiction, don't let a moment of silence seep through during that high. Don't you know–all that noise is for keeping away the big, bad quiet?

8.    A group of people do not talk for a few seconds. They blame it on Jesus.

9.    More alcohol.

10.    What a nosy little bastard.


A boy shouts an unfamiliar word in the middle of a classroom. There was no teacher around, just girls in long, Goldilocks-orange checkered skirts, tidy-white knee socks, black shoes dusty from recess chinese garter. A group of boys were laughing in one corner, cuddling the word like they owned it.

In porn, they called it a different name. The most powerful conversation in porn I ever heard went like this: a woman, with her back arched high up in the air, tells her partner that she was just using you for your cock. I tricked you, she said. Then she laughed.

I was lying on the bed half-naked. My inner thighs were red and hot to the touch. My mother and grandmother were in the room, holding powder and walking fast. The white light bulb behind them formed a halo around their bodies. Somebody put powder between me, patted it on, and put on my panties. Somebody says don't let anyone touch your flower.

Children in a classroom laugh. The word is hilarious.




Originally published on Basura Collective


One of the highlights of my year is watching people smoke crack.

The jokes wouldn’t register at first. Bloodshot eyes. Rapid heartbeat. Not being able to swallow. It must be like cotton mouth only there’s nothing funny about it.


While everyone is getting high, I always imagine men in civilian garb busting through the doorway in classic crime movie fashion. Actions slurred, no exchange that would make any sense. Just the noise of holding life by a thread. Everyone, including myself, gets shot in the forehead.


On Novembers and Decembers, weed stops coming in. The trail that marijuana leaves, in small packets, mini ziplocks, coin envelopes, they just vanish. By the turn of the year, the stuff comes back in droves. A miracle in the middle of March.

Last year, it was the same story. As early as October, people could feel it. Then February, April, June, still nothing. Potheads scrambled the streets like overgrown city rats out of used food plastic to chew. People scraped shelves, old containers, that small space in between the car window and the driver’s seat, in the hope that during the supply heydays, somebody was careless enough to drop a bud in there.

A friend of ours once dropped the last minuscule load of hash while smoking up in his mother’s garden. With great strength of the eye, the hash reappeared pinched between somebody’s thumb and index finger. The smell of smoke in the air was unmistakably waif with the hint of wet earth and dog shit.

With great effort on their part, I received messages from people I met only once, having vaguely mentioned knowing a friend who was a buddy to someone who happened to be a dealer. While all this was happening, shabu continued to power BPO agents, taxi drivers, and the rest of this fine, restless city.

Even down here in ground zero, no one is lining up to the sweat-stinking Barangay Hall covered courts to attend condescending, sectarian seminars on illegal drugs.

But when a famously crackhead son of an unwavering politician with the power to veto slips, we all slip. When a pothead daughter of a man in the ivory tower of the north slips, we all slip.

We are all hanging by something even more delicate than thread.


All our lives begin in the 
middle of things—in medias

res. My cold, wrinkled feet
harden on the soft, damp wood

underneath me; it serves as my
ground. I drifted too far from

the shoreline so I made a
casket out of things the ocean

gave me: a pillar of salt, and
a slimy creature of unknown

variety.  I was adrift, but for the
first time, I was not lost. Years 

ago, scientists found out that
living organisms lived near

underwater volcanoes, with
temperatures reaching to

unbelievable heights of 500 °F.
It is only of recent that we knew

life can be found in unlikely
places. Your mouth is the

graveyard of expectations, my
words vultures trying to

pick out anything that was yet
to die. There are no vultures in the

sea, only microscopic organisms
living in underwater volcanoes.