The Rituals of the New Year

I am missing home and the homeland.

Today as I write this, the new year has come into the homes of our countrymen and the feasting is over, and the post-new year languor is about to set in, with that lingering feeling possessing them and us exiles and immigrants and people of the diaspora.

For us away from home and the homeland, the feeling of being lost is palpable.

We wake up in the wee hours of the night to dream, in half-wakefulness, that soon, soon, we will join the revelry with the loved ones, and soon is really soon, not in this eternity that we feel at this time.

Oh, how time flies, how it escapes from our hands as if it is that same quicksilver in the firework that so suddenly lights up the sky and then the spectacle is all over.

This passing quality of time hits us so hard and we remember that we have not shared the new year revelry with our loved ones for a number of years we now almost do not remember some of the details.

But the rituals, I know well.

But my own rituals in the land of the exiled like me are their own extension--or vice versa. I call home twice, thrice, and endlessly we burn the wires, with the youngest irked that she has to be called time and again away from her favorite show, which, when that one is going on, she does not care about any other worlds, any other people, any other cares, no, not even the residents of some fancy palaces down on a murkey river in the heart of my big city, the metropolis of a sad memory of struggle and survival.

I remember Jane Aragon now, she in her Amman teaching stint, celebrating the new year by herself or with some others who have left home to teach the rich children of Arab bosses, them with their oil, and us with our dream that someday soon, we can strike it quick with our oil wells so that our fortunes will be on reverse.

Why do we sell our brains to others, I do not understand. It is the idea that we can sell our brains, our wit, our knowledge so we can get by in life, never mind the trade-offs, like being away from famiy and home even in days like these ones, the days of our merry-making, the days of our memory-making.

We are all the same, us teachers and writers trying to live, finding the difficult route to surviving the most difficult tests of our profession and our duty to ourselves, to our families, to our children.

The most difficult job, indeed, is to be a writer, or to have the curse of writing and not being able to write at all because you are too damn busy earning a living.

And so I imagine that I am still a writer--I am pretending I am--and I write all these, investing on my memory of the rituals of the new year, the rituals that I keep intact in my heart.

Our family rituals for the new year are us as well--but the rubrics are the wife's, she with her covenant to usurp all our rights to contribute to what counts before the onset of a new year.

She plans days before: what usual food to prepare, the round fruits to hang, the crisp bills to sew on lacy curtains, the bigger denominations close to the dining table so these would not disappear.

She counts them, because the morning after the rituals of the new year, she goes through a solid accounting of all the paper bills that she has reserved for this momentuous occasion of welcoming good luck by driving away all mad thoughts and evil ideas and lurking demonic spirits.

You snatch one bill and you are identified.

The reckoning comes in too fast and there is no pardon.

The children tried some prankter's act and they were caught.

That was their first and their last one-act play of circumventing the matriarchal law and power in our house. That power is absolute, Lord Acton or no Lord Acton in sight.

There has not been any occasion for the money bills disappearing in the last twenty years that she had been doing this ritual of entertaining the possibility of us becoming rich--a thought I need so bad in the hope that I can buy time to sit down, relax, enjoy, and write the books I have in my mind, the books that will retell the stories of our lives, of our dreams, of our desires to make it through the dark nights of our broken and bruised lives.

Sometimes I ask myself, Why is the curse of creative writing inflicted on those who do not have the means to sit down and have the luxury of time to write without worrying where to get the means to put food on the family table?

I called up, Did the golden coconut tree bear fruit for the fruit salad?

She says, Yes, and the stalks are laden but no one is able to harvest them because the tree is so tall now.

I remember that tree when I first planted it as soon as we moved to that humble abode, our modest house that keeps all the memory of the children growing up.

The times were not easy then when me moved in the first time, with that water rationing the most tiring and irksome ritual of our days because the realty developer did not make it sure that we have the water we residents would need.

The city's water system was yet a dream so far away in the pipeline at that time and so we had to make do with drums and drum of water rationed to us, with each drum as costly as the price of crude oil in the world market when no conscienceless capitalist is manipulating the prices, and when wars were not in the minds of crazed men and leaders.

I watered that tree with laundry water and it grew and by the fifth year or so, its arrogant and long stalks would shoot up with those little yellows that ballooned into fruits, green at first, and then golden when they ripened. Sometimes, we would clothe the tree trunk with those starlights from China that blinked and flickered and the tree would look like a magnificent Christmas tree, minus the wrapped boxes and ribbons on its stump.

Are the firecrackers ready? I asked.

I bought some, just to drive away the bad entities with their booming sound, said the wife. We will take pictures and we will email them to you.

Ok then, happy new year, I told them, one by one.

Ah, the rituals. They do mean a lot, a real lot.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
Dec 31/06


Lei said...

We miss you too, Papaaaa! Sabi ni Anchin sana nandito ka para makita mo yung magagandang fireworks. Akala niya e hindi ka pa nakakakita ng fireworks. Hahaha!

Ariel said...

ok, happy new year! maganda rin ang mga fireworks dito, sabihin mo.

rva said...

salamat, manong ariel, sa special mention kay jane, the missus na ngayo'y nasa malayong arabong lunan, sa bansang oman, isa na ring exilong manggagawa. ako'y isa na ring exilo kahit na nandito pa rin sa sariling bayan, ako'y exilo na rin sa piling ng mahal, ng missus, hehehe! pareho na kami niyang exiles at sana hindi kami hahantong sa pagiging exiles kagaya ng mga malulungkot na oldtimers at exiles sa mga kuwento at lahad ni bienvenido santos.

Ariel said...

ok, RVS:
bless all the exiles in the land of the exiled.
happy new year!