There is wisdom in this, this submission to the mysteries of life.
It is, of course, easier to say so when we have the mysteries clothed in joy and this joy comes eternal, boundless, endless every single day.
But this is the lot of the residents of the Philippine Congress, them who think that the right to rule over the people is their inheritance.
Add that to the list of those who abuse their power, whether on the streets of Metro Manila, with the traffic blue boys and girls and the traffic brown boys and girls and the traffic yellow boys and girls of the cities adding luster to the claim of privilege by the new rich and the old rich, we are reduced to being mute.
The last time I went to visit the country, I was caught off-guard by a sudden 'turn-around' in what used to be wide lane of an arbor-lined boulevard leading to the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Roxas.
The traffic blue boy of a mayor whose son was my student boldly told me, Ano ka, nagba-bayoleyt ka ng trapik. Tabi, tabi.
Sensiya na kayo, di ko nakita ang senyal. That's me.
A, wala, wala, tabi, tabi. Doon. With arrogance on his pointed lips, he told me to pullover to the side of the concrete island. Buti sana kung wala ang mga taga-Metro.
Sensiya na, sabi ko.
Walang pasensiya dito, andiyan ang taga MMDA. Mga buwaya ang mga yan.
Anong MMDA? tanong ko.
I have not been to this place for many years, to this part of the big city.
The whole scene and site overwhelms me in this summer heat.
The heat gets into my head.
I am furious now, ferociously mad because there is no visible sign that says I cannot do what I did: to change my lane.
Yang mga brown boys, he said. Matitindi. Dalawang libo ang penalty mo. With bragadoccio one gains from the street for not fixing the traffic jam but for running after violators so you can have the reason to extort money from the ordinary people like them. Akin ang driver's license mo.
I have been away from the country long enough not to have renewed my license.
I have a foreign license I can use anywhere and if this guy gets this one, I will have to go back to taking the bus in Los Angeles again, I tell myself.
A nameless anger is getting the better of me now.
I am becoming livid of so many things. I am beside myself in this summer heat.
I could have turned to a raging bull ready for the fight with the matador--or I am matador confronting the raging bull?
I am upset, pissed off.
I have a litany in my list:
About the rotten country.
About the rotten traffic rules.
About the rotten re-routing scheme with no clear instructions where to turn.
About the traffic that does not move.
About the lies and the deceptions of those in power, the cha-cha, the impeachment, the heat of summer, the price of gas, the price of vegetables.
I am mad about many things and I tell myself: take it easy, dude.
No, give me your Philippine license.
I am visiting here, I do not know your latest rules on where to turn with your re-routing scheme that is as scheming as this country is doing to its people.
I could have said the whole thing, but I withheld the last part of the sentence.
Two thousand ito, boss, tubusin ninyo sa traffic center sa may...
Bullshit, I tell myself. Tanginang buhay sa bayan, tangamang buhay sa bayan.
Tangamang dalawang libong yan na ang hirap kitain sa dayong bayan, I tell myself without saying a word, not uttering any sound. There is murder in my lips and in my words and I know.
I drive to the Cultural Center of the Philippines parking lot, with the missus, the mother-in-law, and a seven year-old young niece ever so silent.
I went up the CCP and met up with Hermie Beltran.
Of course, he knew nothing about what happened to me on the road.
We talked about liberation, freedom, democracy, and literature.
We talked about cultural advocacy work.
We talked about the forthcoming Ani that has my work in it, my works on im/migrant life.
The whole CCP complex is as hot as a volcano spewting lava. The central airconditioning has not been fixed and everyone is fanning themselves to drive away the May heat from their heads.
That airconditioning was put when Marcos was in power and his fisrt lady was patroness of the arts and culture of the country, I kid him, the director.
Oo nga, he tells me, perhaps partly amused of my sophomoric reckoning of recent history.
Now we have a new regime, I tell him, as if he does not know, our exchange a part of our repartee, part of missing the fun of each other's literary company.
And the airconditioning is out of commission. This has been going on for some time. The repair people come and they leave and they come and they leave, he says, now fanning himself profusely, beads of heat appearing as if in apparition from his forehead.
The director of literary arts of CCP is in heat, I kid him.
We laugh the laughter of the poets who have known hunger in the heart, hunger in the arts, our laughter coming from our guts.
I say my goodbye.
But before that I hand him my autographed Dangadang, a novel I have written way back when the University of the Philippines in Diliman was still the home of my wandering/wondering mind, when, at a certain point, I could have been the prototipong lagalag as my professor Bien Lumbera once emailed to me.
I go to the parking lot where the mother-in-law, the missus, and a niece are waiting, drenched in the early afternoon heat.
This is resignation, I tell myself.
This is submission to life's sometimes terrible mysteries.
Like this traffic aide and his cabal of thieves making a living out of commuters' terrible experiences.
The motherland has not changed a whit, I tell my passengers. But have we ever got another one, another one indeed?
I only have silence as an answer.
The mother-in-law, a retired government employee, kept her silent corner in the car, guarding her space fiercely even as I burst out with my anger.
A. S. Agcaoili
June 20, 2006