The Anatomy of an Exilic Novel

As I write this, it is about midnight.

I am still at my office trying to decipher what these last few days had always been about.

We had had rains, the worst kind in the last few years. The old people of the Ilocos who came by for the last twenty years or so cannot remember anyone like these—these rains and thunder and flashfloods and lightning that visited us for almost two weeks.

There is quiet now, there is that aloneness that I have always craved for in late evenings like this one.

Before me is a luxuriant mountain range that, aided by some daytime 'liquid sunshine'--a beautiful and apt metaphor for that phenomenon in Hawai'i as in the Ilocos of my memory of a downpour while the sun is up there in the blue skies, yes, the blue skies--produces the multiple rainbows anytime of the day, the relentless miracle of this valley.

I allow my gaze to look out the window, my gaze panning like a Nikon with a shutter the speed of lightning to preserve forever the view of a moment, freeze it so that those who know what beauty is all about would be able to see it in the concrete.

The dark mountain, dotted by flickering lights, meets my gaze, returns it frame by frame.

I sit here motionless, in the meantime.

The afternoon was mixed bag of many things: a radio program on KORL with a drama series, ‘Imnas nga Indaddaduma,’ going on, and with the Sunday episode sometimes written in a rush an hour before we go on air; a date with the sea and sun and surf to mark off that communion that one has to have after the rains; and this other social obligation to party, Christmas or no Christmas in these parts.

I have never had any numerous parties in my whole life.

This Hawai'i stint has opened up avenues for me to link up with the community but this linking up has demanded a lot of my material time as well that sometimes, I feel like I am beginning to betray my craft of writing. But when you run a heritage program like I do, you do not have many options. You lose if you give up.

The trouble is that the results of hard work do not have the epiphany that can be labeled with immediacy. No, a heritage is a heritage and one has to have faith and prayer and common sense to wait, and wait, and wait.

And so this Christmas program of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Hawai'i came by today--at the Philippine Consulate General on Pali, the famous Pali highway with its lookout of a crevice that leads to a brook and further down, a Japanese cemetery that looks like Buddhist with the granite headstones.

And so we went: Belinda Aquino of the Center for Philippines Studies of UH Manoa; Precy Espiritu, Lilia Santiago, and myself, with us last three connected directly to the Ilokano Language and Literature Program.

We had fun, with us singing some Christmas carols, and us Ilokanos, when called, singing 'O naraniag a bulan' as if people cared what we were mouthing. Raymund Liongson busied himself with the guitar while the others grabbed the marimba and the caracas and those tom-toms that give off that crash-crash sound.

The food was for the gluttons: lechon and all those other specialties from the homeland--no, not them really but the concept and the manner they were cooked--and those sweety-sweety pies one can easily grab at Walmart or Walgreen or Longs or Safeway or Costco, assuming one has the drive to queue up in the perennial long line of quickie food shoppers especially on weekends.

We had our fill--or so I thought.

When we have put back what we have used--the chairs and tables and the what-nots--and the garbage disposed, or collected on the black plastic bags and put on the car of one alum, we went to the parking lot and drove off.

But Lindy said that she wanted to take tea in some fancy resto on Waikiki.

I was shocked. You mean you are still hungry?

I did not eat, she says. Even at the Christmas party of the president, I could hardly grab something.

Lilia and Precy but in: Yes, we go to that resto on that hotel. They have good tea.

Gosh, I say. I am part of the counter-revolution. I cannot stand this.

Come on, Lindy says. I know you want tea.

I keep quiet.

So where do we go, I finally ask Manang Precy. Navigate me. And remember, I am going to write about today. I am going to write about exiles like us, that, after a party of gluttons, you are again looking for a place to go to drink your tea. What are we? I realized I know how to verbalize a threat, make it into a part of the public discourse in the society of four people all cramped in my car, the very people who have one way or the other wished the liberation of the homeland from the clutches of green and overly comfort.

Are we still the people of the Philippines? I ask again, my voice mocking.

You are cantankerous, someone tells me. Or I thought I heard somebody telling me that.

What did you say? I responded.

Something piqued my ego. I tell them: I am going to write a chapter about the life of a 'burgis' in da USA, like you who were of the movement of genuine freedom and who are now making this burgis value to wrap up your evening with a late tea at a fancy resto somewhere.

Come on, you will not. Was it Lindy who tells me that?

I will, I say.

And so I am writing about this, hoping that in the future, I will have a use for it in that imagined novel, I am, as a matter of course, still imagining.

C'est la vie, indeed.

A Solver Agcaoili
Hon, HI

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