“Redemption” tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they could to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.
“Redemption” is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life’s rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who have wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.
I am Ditas. I hope to be the next voluntary exile. Or the next overseas Filipino worker, the bagong bayani. To the US of A. No more, no less. To scoop all the dollars I could scoop and keep them for myself. Ha!
I am trying to become a nurse and leave this country as soon as I have the chance.
There is not a life here, not a sign.
I try to learn my English very well despite the tongue that sometimes tricks me into making the sounds of Ilocano or Pangasinense as if they are German or some such other languages that create more vowel and consonant sounds apart from what is there in the Webster’s.
With my nurse’s cap on, I try to look at my composure on a life-size mirror I bought from the Bombay making all offers of anything on a five-six arrangement.
It is common here, in these parts, in an area in Manila where living from hand-to-mouth is the rule rather than the exception.
Believe me, you forget the claims of the President of the land or all of the leaders of the country who do not know how to count the monies coming in and the monies coming out.
I told my economics teacher one time. The claim on the growth target for the third quarter of the year is one by witches and with their brew as their evidence.
I did not know why I used the simile of the witches. Or was that an allusion?
Mother, when she went cranky, looked to me like she was a witch.
The first time she talked about millions of monies, no she said thousands and thousands and thousands in Ilocano, coming soon and getting into her palm as if these monies have a mind of their own, I knew the truth.
By then, mother must have felt the pang of guilt. She would wash her hands repeatedly and would talk about the thousands and thousands of monies coming, arriving, as if they are brought by the wild winds.
She would lose her mind for abandoning her children would cry, cry out, stand before father and beg him to not hurt mother.
For running away many times.
For many years, she was that: battered, abandoned, oppressed.
Many times, we children would cry, cry out, stand before father and beg him to not hurt mother.
Our begging would not make a dent to father who would always tell her: You leave me and you are a goner.
You leave me and your children will all die with you.
You leave me and your children with that other man will die with you as well.
Mark my word, you harlot, you prostitute, you daughter of a bitch. Ha!
I can kill you with my bare hands.
You leave but you better be sure that I will never find you out.
We are in this together.
We are in this together forever.
This sin. This grave sin. This mortal sin.
We liked it both the.
We have to continue liking it now.
And I do not care what the people say.
Let them talk.
Let even the priest down on the hill where you go to church talk.
Let even the madre, your aunt, talk about your salvation.
She can always pray for you.
She can always pray for us.
She can recite all the novenas she knows.
She can always ask for your redemption.
But I promise you, you harlot.
We will be in this together forever and we will both be doomed.
It is better this way.
You severe our ties and we are like American and the Philippines.
Whatever it is you say, our lives are intertwined now and there is no turning back.
Our date with the doomsday has been set and so we let go. Believe.
And then I would here the sounds of slapping, the hands hitting on flesh, the cries.
Mother would fight back in the beginning.
She would curse father with all the might of her useless words.
You will be hit by a lightning.
The earth will crack open and swallow you.
You will suffer.
You will have that sickness that will tie you to your bed for a long, tong time.
You will remember how you hurt me.
You will remember all the sufferings that I had to go through just to live with you.
You will remember the love that I had for you.
You will remember that I made that ultimate sacrifice of abandoning my children because of that live that I have for you.
You will remember that we had dreams together and the dreams did not include older children.
You will remember that I had loved you with all my heart and that I followed that love wherever it took me, whatever it took believing that I had you forever.
Now, you leech, you hurt me.
Now, you son of a bitch, you punish me.
You die now and I will not cry a bit.
No tears will flow from my eyes when you hit the dust.
And I will not even bother to bury you.
You will get sick.
You will lie in bed for a long, long time. Crawl like a snake, humiliated.
You hands will lose their strength.
You heart will be useless as well.
And the bad air will get into your lungs.
And I will watch you die. Slowly you will die. Bit by bit.
Never mind if I will suffer as I watch.
I will get back my self-respect that way.
I will get back my redemption that way. I will watch you as you will waste away.
I will watch you as you die of consumption.
So there, there, hit me hard.
You will have, these punishments that you deserve, you ingrate.
We would all cry, we the children. We would wail and lament, we the children born of this unruly game of love that we knew early on for what it was.
The neighbors talked about the other children who just lived close by: the three brothers and the other daughter, all very young, who had to fend for themselves in order to live.
We were five children when the beating began—or that was what I thought. Lagrimas, who is now in Hawaii, Rosario in Florida, me here still and trying go away, Lorena in the Pine City trying to make every woman vain as vain can be by pampering them in her beauty parlor, Junior in his ministry in the Kalingas, he who has chosen to go where salvation is, where redemption amounts to something relevant.
With Rosario, Manang Lagrimas left for Hawaii in 1985 and did not come back until mother had all what it takes for carrying so much weight on her shoulder and so much guilt in her soul and hear: she said she had become Mother Philippines.
I do not know how this happened but she told one story that I have not forgotten: that in the grades, she was the fairest of the school children. She was also the smartest: she could read English at Grade Two and could memorize the long lines in a declamation for the Independence Day celebration. She still remembered the lines: “Mother Philippines, beloved parents, teachers…”
She was the Mother Philippines, she in her terno of the tri-colors.
She tried teaching me that one time for the independence celebration. I recited that in the school program and mother was there watching, she who had to go around town to barter the cane wine in order for me to have the terno sewn by the town’s dressmaker.
Mother had a way of loving. She had to give all. All or nothing.
Even now, she is like, now that she does not have a mind of her own.
Like the Philippines, the Mother Philippines, this country that does not make sense to us anymore.
They have hurt this country so.
They have harmed this country so.
They have battered it, made it sure that it would go down the drain.
The leaders are the culprit, the agents of the evil.
That is what mother would say when she is sober and alert, when she is not depressed, when she is in her right senses.
The leaders. What can they tell me now? I am raring to go.
To get out of this country for good, go away, run away, run to where there is life, run and never come back.
I put on my cap and I practice my English. I learn to curve my lips and let the schwa sound come off. The short a is difficult for me, the short a in the apple that I like best. The red Washington kind that I will not get tired biting to my heart’s content once I get to the US of A. Ha!