By Abril Solis Agapito
?Redemption? tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they can to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.
?Redemption? is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life?s rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.
In the silences that I enter into in my mind, I have this letter to you all: you Ria who have never known me except for the two years that you suckled my breast; you Lagrimas who despised me so much; you Rosario who learned so much of this running away from me; you Ditas who only know the meaning of passion and desire; and you Lorena who only know the measure and limits of vanity even as you try to make everyone beautiful and happy.
I could not have written what I have in my mind. But let the wild winds translate this into a narrative of struggle and pain even as I continually wrestle with my demon that has begun to torment me since that day the typhoon came.
On that day that the wild winds came, I prayed for the first time in a long while.
I prayed that God would take me swiftly, instantly
I have sinned before God and man?and my sin had something to do with my dream of a life of laughter and freedom and song.
And I had loved him, loved him the way I had never loved anyone, the man of my heart, the man of my soul, the man of my life, the love of my life.
He was Steve. Was. Because he had died on me.
And I remember him now twenty years after.
I remember the loving.
I remember the loving as if there was no tomorrow.
We would steal the hours during the time that we had the chance.
He would come to me in the dark.
He would come to me when the wild winds came in October, during the spawning season for the ipon, those tiny fishes that I would salt to taste to make the bagoong delicacy for my beloved.
I do not know. But I would reserve the best for him. Just the best, even at the expense of my growing up boys.
One day, my eldest brought home a mudfish he caught from the brook that meander from the Didaya to the minor seminary to the west where the sea of La Pas or Gabu is.
My boy was so happy.
You see, we have not had a good and decent for the last three days.
We had the storm last week and all over there is mud.
All over there is hunger too.
The president of the country, that man who people said came from the blood of pirates like Limahong, said he would send us rice.
The rice would smell so bad so you cannot eat it.
The smell would stick to your nose as if you just rolled on a pigsty that had not been cleaned for two weeks.
That president was a big liar.
But I liked the way he spoke English. So confident. I saw him one fiesta time when he spoke at the theatre at the foot of the Gilbert bridge.
And he spoke Ilokano too, the kind of an Ilokano you knew is spoken only by the powerful men of the ili.
Ha, this big men. What did they know about loving?
I was young when I saw Steve.
He was young too.
I was twenty six and I had three boys, their ages ranging from six to nine.
Steve was young, maybe twenty eight at that time.
In the dark I would see his face: rough, the roughness of sacadas in Canlubang.
For he went to Canlubang for the seasonal labor that the estate would need to cut the sugar canes.
He would stay there for months and months on end and I would miss him.
I would miss his smell. It reminded me of the hills and the forests and gurgling rivulets.
I would miss his callused hands. They reminded me of strength. They reminded me of his ability to protect me from harm, any harm. They reminded me of his capacity to show care and concern.
I would miss his smile, his face glowing in the dark as I watch him show me his pearly teeth. Those smiles would be sufficient to make me forget that here, in these parts, here I am, and here I am so alone. All of my family is in Isabela, hundreds of kilometers away, two days by bus if you are lucky. Those smiles reminded me of how tenuous life is, how fragile, how short.
And I had not known happiness the way I dreamed of it.
The happiness that I know was from the movies, that one that begins happily and ends happily.
I knew each time that I would meet him in the dark: that I love him more than anyone else.
He told me the same thing, with the dark as our witness.
That was the time Teddy went to the ili to meet up with the governor and the mayors and those big people who would meet up also with the president.
The president was coming to inaugurate the museum of the people, the museum that housed all our past in these parts.
I thought that I did not have anything to do with this past that they talked about.
I was supposed to go to the ili as well to watch the ceremony of welcome and speeches and empty words.
I was supposed to help out in the giving of food to the visitors, curtsy to those women in terno and run errands for them.
Or worse, I could have been designated fly swatter while the leaders talked of democracy and the nation and peace and progress.
They are all jokers, these people.
They tell so many things they did not know about.
The governor was into the arts and everything folkloric.
With the fiesta that came every February in keeping with the feast day of the William the Hermit, they would have this carnival of sorts?a carnival of everything.
A carnival of the moro-moro which I liked in the beginning because of their exaggerated movements: ?Daanam ti espadak a natadem, no dimo madaanan, biakmo?t maiwalang!?
A carnival of all their farm produce: the biggest sayote, the biggest singkamas, the biggest eggplant, the biggest watermelon.
And they would have the all night long verbal jousts and bukanegan and the dallot that ran from days and days on end.
So while Teddy and the rest of them from the village where we have eked out a life of promise?but just promise?all went to the ili to welcome the president of the land, I stayed put.
I must say that I chose to remain in the village.
That morning, in the early hours as I went to hear mass in the church up the hill towards the sea where the priests recite their matins as if the world is one solemn celebration of awakening and never sleeping, I had my awakening with my Steve.
He came to me in the dark.
I came to him in the dark, in that uphill climb that leads to the church up towering above all the houses in that unlighted barrio of Teddy.
We talked about our meeting up the day before when all of a sudden he sprang up in front of me while I walked back to home from the church. The day had not come and the fingers of sunlight had yet to reach the forested area where I had to pass from the church.
We lived uphill, to where the farm on the slope was.
And there he was, my Steve. What a sight!
I did not know he was following me but there he was in the semi-darkness that enveloped the early morning hours with the dew still on the blades of grass.
At that instant, I felt my breast being suckled and having just lost Josefa I thought that that child that I lost a few weeks back was coming back to me and telling me, ?Nanang, Nanang, I am hungry!?
I would have everything going on so clear in my mind. ?Yes, yes, my beloved Josefa, you suckle my breast anytime you want. Anywhere, even in the dark.?
But Steve was there and in the dark passion imprisoned us.
There was no blessing here, I knew.
There was only the fire of love, the ember of wanting for more, the desire to get hold of the hours and make them linger.
I do not know.
But on that morning, I went home to make coffee from burned rice still drifting in the skies, interspersed with the clouds.
I will see you tomorrow, I heard Steve telling me so softly in my ears. I was twenty six or something and I knew right there and then what love was.
Do not go to the ili to welcome the president of the land, he tells.
I look at him straight in the eyes. Even in the dark, I knew that I saw his eyes so drunk with love.
I love you, he tells.
I cannot live without you, he tells me some more.
Let us run away, run away to where the wild winds go, he tells me repeatedly even as he kisses me, holds my hand so tightly and embraces as if someone is going to snatch me from him.
I will see, I tell him.
Do not promise. Tell me you would not go. I need you tomorrow and forever.
I do not know. I am now talking to the semi-darkness.
You stay with me, he tells me as he leads me to that road to home. In the dark.
Well, there is no closure here. I will tell you more about the dire days.
I pray for you all that you will find love.