It was my daughter's sentence, "We are not rich because my father works in a faraway place."
I held back my tear when I heard her say that and that was two days ago when here in the Manoa of the many rainbows, the liquid sunshine ruled our days.
There was a constant in these last few days: the chanting of the birds on April shower tops, in their fall glory, in baby pinks and soft yellows and dainty white, each Angelus time. There is God and the God is the Mannakabalin-Amin. And no less.
In these faraway parts of exile, some thousands of miles away from the dear daughter, the is that unnamed pain that gnaws away at your heart when you hear stories like my daughter's.
The last born who does not know me much except through my telephone calls and that once-a-year rite of family renewal that takes me to faraway places as well, away from the family home in pursuit of linguistic democracy and cultural justice in the homeland.
She knows one thing: that I am always away, that in these faraway places I go to, in the homeland as in other lands, she knows I am always scouring for something that will put food on the table, for some cash that will pay for her tuition, for some small luxuries like that rite she and her mother would go through come weekends, a rite of irregularity but gives off some balming effect on her, making her forget where her father is, why he is not coming home like those fathers of her classmates who come home each night and read to them bedtime stories.
At six and in her third year of formal schooling in that invented torture we call pre-school, she has somehow learned the difference between having a father around and therefore one could invariably be rich and having a father slaving it out in lands she does not understand where except that when I call in the evenings, she goes to the window and say that the sun is still up in our home in the foot of the Marikina hills.
And then she would ask, in crisp Tagalog, her manner of questioning like an angel in that innocence I want to freeze in my mind to assuage the pain I keep in my heart: "Diyan sa inyo, Papa, gabi na? Wala nang araw?"
Something thugs at my chest when I hear her say these words. I remember that when I was still in California and she was three-going-four, she asked me: "Dito umuulan ng malakas. Tingnan ko sa bintana, ang lakas! Diyan sa bahay mo, papa, umuulan din ba?"
These things do not have value to the homeland that does not offer anything except this rigodon of corruption and indecency among the filthy rich, among the callous politicians, and among the churchmen whose simony is holding us hostage, we believers, we who are trying to believe. No, we do not have a chance, not even when we pray to all the saints. The clue is in the rage that we are able to summon so that with its power, we can finally get out of this cynicism that is killing us: There is no hope in the homeland.
Each time I link up with friends, I am jolted of news: many are leaving the homeland, and this departure knows no end.
With Joe de Venecia torn between his President Gloria Arroyo and his son on the latest scandal that has something to do with some people getting rich quick with their commissions from the Chinese businessmen, we cannot see an end to the continuing OFW-ization of fathers and mothers and children to lands unknown, to countries strange, and to employers who are opportunists.
I know. A niece left teaching in Science to do childcare work in Singapore.
Yes, the daughter is right: we are not rich--I hope we were--and so her father has to go away and look for something so there would be food on our family table.
From my office in the University, I look out the window. The homes of the rich on the ridges of verdant mountains that look out to the Diamond head greet me with their pomposity.
I take a deep breath.
I count the days, the weeks, the months--the times I will be away before I take that plane ride to home for that blessed renewal come what may.
You be good, I tell the daughter. Study well.
I do, she says, with glee, her innocence marked by the boast she tells of how many stars she got on her paper today.
A Solver Agcaoili