(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.)
(This is a page from the diary of Lagrimas)
December 25, 1989
I watch my first child as she sleeps, with her guardian angel at her side.
It is the early hours and soon my husband will arrive from his second job slaughtering livestock.
It is a job he does not like doing but he has to do because we have to scratch out a life.
We started with nothing. Just the birth of dreams, at least for him.
For me, I had to run away from it all: the memory of having lost so much in life, the challenge of getting on in this journey, the trauma of having to face poverty again.
I cannot even think of counting rice grains anymore even as the stomach hunger for more of the promise of fullness. The life in the village was hell. And I am done with it.
If I have to go numb and amnesiac, I have to do it.
This is America now and with this child I intend to make the most out of this despair.
I look at this child again and Nanang comes to me in the air, her voice quivering in the wind and asking Tatang Steve to stop: Stop! Stop! Stop!
I could have stabbed that no-good man, he with his route to food by stealing from other people.
I could have gotten the bolo, not so sharp as it was, and with it pummeled his head with all the force of a ten-year old.
I was ten when the beatings got worse.
I was younger when the whole dark comedy began.
It had something to do with me as having come from the desires of another man, something I could not understand.
But the people talked, the people who did not know the meaning of grace and respect and dignity and all those characteristics that went with the people of the town, those who had to kiss each other?s hand, buzz each other cheeks, and greet each other with that perfunctory ?Good morning!??and in English at that?just so they can prove that they have learned their lessons on civility well.
In the village, we had none of those.
You cannot?your do not have?the luxury of greeting another when on your head are a big jar of bagoong that you have to sell cup by cup to those who believe that what you have is of the pure Dagupan kind, the one that had all the fresh fish and fermented with the finest Pangasinan salt, crystal clear and inviting, the one that Nanang used to trick us into eating our scoop of the rice, sprinkling our plate with the words, Asin, asin, makalulukmeg pingping. I could imagine it now, the ritual to our imagined fullness: Salt, salt, giver of flesh on the face.
With the words spoken, we go into a trance.
We get the spoon and pour water on the newly cooked rice and gruel becomes the best food we had ever tasted in our life.
And now, in Waipahu, things have changed.
I run to my work whenever I can even as I think of Nanang losing her mind.
Ditas says she has gone astray many time.
She goes to the fields, Nanang.
She carries with her box of everything that she owned: the tattered duanaig that she used to roll to cushion her head with the burden of a jar that she carried around in the other villages.
Her gait uncertain, she stumbles in the plowed earth and cries the cry of the desperate: Take me, take me, take me, Oh God of life. Take my life away.
I could hear her cry in anguish.
I could hear her curses.
I could hear her supplications.
I could hear her regrets.
I could hear her wishing that she were dead.
Nanang, I say. Nanang.
I look at my sleeping child, the rising and falling of her breast regular. She smiles sometimes. Her angel plays with her. Perhaps they are playing dolls.
I did not have any of those Barbie dolls.
I had rags that I would fashion into something resembling a person, the head a lump from the rags, the arms and legs just a protrusion from the longer rags.
I would let my doll sleep the sleep of the just, the contended, the one with all the food on the table, the one with the clothes of princes.
One Christmas time, we had nothing.
I worried about my doll.
Perhaps I was six at that time.
I had two younger siblings to take care of.
Rosario was wily, a trickster, more like a stepsister than a sister.
She wanted all the best for herself and since we did not have the best, she took all what she could.
I was the eldest and I could only watch.
Sarito was two at that time and did not took much except to wait for his share of the gruel that I would prepare from the leftover rice and water from the well. I made it sure that the salt with its miracles had to be sprinkled, the words of the blessing I had already memorized.
Go, eat it all, I tell Sarito.
Do not leave anything. The ugaw will sulk and he will not come back anymore.
Sarito would just look at me. At two, he would not know what the ugaw was.
I did not know what that was either but in my mind, I would conjure the images of small people, elves perhaps, dwarfs with their white bonnets leaving the plate and going to some other plates and there give the grace to the diner.
I was afraid of going hungry.
I still am.
And so I would call back the ugaw, call him by his name, and ask him not to go away.
Sarito would smile.
Sarito would open his mouth with gusto.
Sarito would ask for more until I had nothing to give him.
I look out the hut and I would surmise a long time yet before Nanang would come from her house-to-house trade of the bagong from Dagupan.
I would watch the lizards going through their six o?clock ritual.
They go down the bamboo poles of the house and kiss the ground and then they go up, climb the bamboo poles and make those sounds that called out the dark.
I thought that there was something in the coming of the dark.
I thought that mother would come home soon.
I prayed that Sarito would not ask for more of the gruel.
I prayed that Rosario would not pester me with her questions whether I was her sister or not.
At four, she was advanced for her age of the scandal that could make you question whether there really are guardian angels. I did not know what to believe. I still do not know what to believe until now.
I look at my sleeping child and I see the rare joys of Nanang on her face.
My child took after Nanang.
I let her suckle my breast even as I imagine the wall as the canvass of all that had been in my life in the Philippines.
One canvass is Rosario with her taunts, repeated and tormenting, accusing and judging: You are not us.
I heard my playmates say we are not real sisters.
I heard them say your father is Teddy.
I heard them say you are not supposed to live here.
The words are menacing and the gathering dark in Waipahu makes the words more sinister.
I imagine the Pearl Harbor being bombed, again and again.
I imagine my mind being bombarded by the same words that carried the weight of a
strange truth that I had long carried deep in my heart.
I had question about who I was in the same manner that I have questions about my being exile here in this land.
Oh to live in exile is most difficult.
In Honolulu, I had to acquire an accent in order to work in a bank.
I had to memorize the perfunctory greetings and the same perfunctory goodbye: Thank you for coming to our bank. Is there anything else that I can do for you today?
I had to practice the greetings in front of a mirror.
That was part of the training for an immigrant like me. Lose the accent of the home country. Acquire the accent of the workplace.
Roll your r?s.
Perfect your short a?s.
Put an s after the t to come up with the ts sound.
I close my eyes.
I tell myself: I will not work in a bank forever.
Perhaps I will wash the dishes in a restaurant.
Perhaps I will wait tables.
Perhaps I will get to become a nursing assistant and take care of the dying and the miserable.
I count the years. In 1985 we came to Honolulu as orphans. Or an aunt?s attorney passed us off as orphans and that they adopted us.
It took them years to do that.
And money too. Hard-earned, saved up.
We were sent to school and there learned to roll my r?s, catch on some Pidgin English, and sat in some Niponggo classes for my elective.
The years leading to our departure were lean ones. In 1983, they assassinated Ninoy Aquino, finished him off before he could walk any further to confront the dictator of the land who had declared himself the redeemer of the miseries of the people.
By twelve, I was hired off by Nanang to work for other people?s homes.
I would do everything to help my family. And I was ready.
Nanang would collect my wages months before so I did not have any reason to run away. I could not run away.
I took care of other people?s lives and home.
I never took care of my life and I had no home.
I look at my daughter now.
I tell her, we might as well love our being exiles. Here, we only learn to speak English well and forget all the memories of the dire days and we will be able to get by.
My daughter smiles. Her angel comes to play with her.
I stand up to welcome the gathering dark. Far away, I can see the twinkling lights that formed like waves toward the Pearl Harbor.
This is America, I tell myself. I remember Nanang as she stumbled in the fields of our broken lives.
I cannot return to the homeland, not in the same way any more.
I know I cannot return to same memories as well.
I open the blinds. Dark greets me. I close my eyes. A new day will dawn in these parts, this I know.
Dec. 24, 2005