In the time of hunger, everything is compromised.
It is going to be a difficult essay, this one, and it is most difficult to write because it is about how to husband hunger, exile or no exile.
I have many anecdotes to tell--and brace up yourself.
Our firstborn came in at a time when we were young, his parents.
This was also the Sad Time of the Republic.
The Great Assassination, which became The Great Blunder, happened, just happened as if it were a phenomenon bound to come like a flicker.
But then there was chaos, all kinds, all of them and the firstborn of our three children chose to come into world--no, chose to throw himself into the world--in the midst of this chaos.
While The Republic was going through this difficult baptism of fire after fire, storm after storm, and deluge after deluge, the politicos were busy cooking up something sinister, a kind of a political potion meant to poison the mind of the already-hungry and already-angry publics.
I cannot use the masa term here, plain and simple.
For the masa is a misnomer, in the same sense that there can be something of a misnomer in the term 'elite'.
Look at Kris A, for instance, with her masa ways.
Yet she is clearly a bundle of contradictions: she dons the best of the show dresses she probably orders from Robinson's May or Macy's down here, in these parts, in the Tate of her spokening English, accent and all, the faux pronunciation evident despite the intent to hide it by masking her 'narrative voice' with that idious phrase--or is it a sentence, a verdict, a judgment?--'Korek ka jan!'
The masa at this time, as it is still now, was a two-faced entity: one face, the hungry and loyal to whoever gives the dough; the other face, the ideal and loyal to the abstract concerns of persons.
Many were caught in between, the definition essentially not a two-pronged, quarrelling and contradictory position and reality.
Hunger is hunger everywhere you go.
And anger too.
It is easier to judge than to go through the process of hungering for what is just and fair--and hungering for food on the table.
And so you become angry just entertaining that idea that some are really smarter than others because of lineage or parentage or connections or just plain stupid luck.
When the stomach aches because there is nothing in there, the law of the jungle comes in, whether that jungle is cemented or not.
So, at the time of The Great Payoff during that snap election that was meant to seduce the masa into giving its blessing to either the incumbent or to the challenger, that housewife of an haciendera-turned-rallying point/point of reference of the nation that was crying for freedom, some hands got some of the newly-minted bills, in the twenty peso denomination, crisp and fresh and smelling of ink, with the face of a president smiling at the beholder.
The missus got some. Or was it only one?
Her father got mad, furious, fiercely the UP policeman who probably had seen so many nationalist rallies in his decades of service at the State U that he must have realized that heroism has a place and that putting your ideals above anything else, is the most honorable thing to do.
The missus said no, This is the people's money and it is my money, and I will use it to buy milk for my firstborn.
There was hunger, remember?
And the firstborn chose to be thrown into the world like the mode and manner of the ritzy-rich you have to forgo some protein intake to be able to buy his milk.
You return it to that idiot of a barangay chairman, the activist-turned-patriot of a father of my missus commanded from his mountain post, regal, royal, pontifical.
The missus said, No. My firstborn is above any consideration. I do not care about Cory Aquino, presidents, freedom, or those others abstractions at this time. He has to eat, he has to live. Malay ninyo, siya ang magiging presidenteng matino.
End of argument.
You could just imagine how she guarded her firstborn, the missus.
The firstborn was about six or seven months at the time of The Great Upheaval--and he needed all the Similac money to live.
He did not live on any other milk, except this most expensive of all the baby formulas.
So in him was resistance, early on, resistance with the big R: Nag-aanak kayo, puwes, suportahan ninyo ako. I want the best.
And to think that he was a special baby in some sort of way, born to imitate--even duplicate and eventually transcend, the geometric pi, as if our life at that time was a geometry of many sacrifices, trials, and more sacrifices and trials: weight at 3.14 pounds, size so small like a rat, his face that of a prune or a raisin.
But he was our beautiful firstborn, raisin or no raisin, prune or no prune.
And this is the trick, amidst difficulty of looking for the milk money: he had to remain in the hospital so he would be incubated for more than two weeks, the incubation a medical necessity to help him grow a bit, swell a bit, help his bodily systems mature and function.
And when we left him in the hospital, it was during the season of heavy rains and flood.
One day after my class the University of Santo Tomas where I taught, philosophy and literature, among others, I passed by the pediatric ward of the hospital on Morayta where his mom was also born 22 years before.
The flood water was up to my knee that I literally had to wade in the murky and brown and smelly liquid that claimed the streets just to visit the firstborn, our firstborn.
That became a regimen, a ritual, a ceremony, this daily visitation.
That firstborn grew up to be man, one of his own.
And I am proud to have husbanded our hunger in those most difficult times.
Two years after the birth of the firstborn, the first daughter came.
There is the appelation 'first'. There is a 'second' that came after after almost 15 years of hiatus.
By then, I was just finishing my masters and the missus had yet to find a job, which she could not because she had the firstborn, and that job was fulltime. The firstborn was always sick and he had to be brought to the hospital for check-up very often.
But then the first daughter came.
Her coming was insistent, as if telling us: hey, hey mga parents, here, here ye, here I come!
It pays that when Kris A was starting showbiz after she recited that beautiful euology and said her public goodbye to her martyred father at the Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, when she was still trying to impress the television powerbrokers and the viewing publics, the missus was conceiving with our second born, a daughter we found out later who acts, until now, as if she was born in a manor, or as if she grew up in Boston or London or Los Angeles.
Hollywoodish ways, hers, you can say. And to the hilt.
She simply acts like Kris A, with her Boston and sometimes London and sometimes fake Los Angeles, accent. Forget New York. She can even manage that pretty well.
But that is not the point of the story.
We, the missus and I, were young in terms of youth--and the lack of resources that went with it.
We were husbanding our hunger when the first two children came and we ploughed through with grace and blessing and a thousand sacrifices.
The husbanding, however, has not ended--it does not end with the birth of children.
People are not fish.
And vice versa.
Rule of identity.
Which means, we had to work hard to see them through their childhood--and now their youth.
Working hard means you have to count your pennies and cents sometimes especially when the going gets rough.
And be ready to open the one and only piggy bank when the need arises.
But working hard means also working hard for blessings.
Surely, we have an abundance of these, these blessings.
And we can only be grateful.
The last born?
Well, she gets all the credit for making us all on our guard, on our toes.
And for giving us rare joys, big joys, small joys, everyday joys.
Like when she says her Dora, her doll of a student or her student of a doll, whichever is the case, is sick because she is hard-headed: she goes outside, in the rain, under the sun, smells the polluted air, plays with dirt.
I am always reminding Dora to not do these things, she brags on the phone.
You are not doing the same thing as Dora? I ask her.
No, she says. Mabait ako.
End of the story.
A. S. Agcaoili
May 26, 2006