“Redemption” tackles the life of five daughters and their 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 five daughters carry with them 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.
Lagrimas, the tears. This could have been the imagination of the mother when she named me Lagrimas. I was her tears? I was her tears? I am her tears? I am her tears? I am her tears. I am Lagrimas, the daughter who did not know much in the beginning.
I did not know where I came from although the people in the little barrio in the Ilocos talked of some father I had come from.
I did not know the stories of storks giving birth to babies—nor of babies giving birth to storks.
I was just lost, plain and simple.
Father Steve’s relatives called me the outsider, the stranger, the relative who was not a kin. I did not share their wild blood, red, and impure.
I was called a different name when I was a baby, I was told.
The name came from the stars of cheap films, the vaudeville kind, that mother, with her young friends, would frequent to run away from the boring life of the barrio where we lived.
Many times I heard stories about mother leaving my three bothers by themselves early in the morning as soon as father Teddy left for work in his relative’s big farm of citrus and watermelon and corn and rice.
She would romp with them as if the movie in the ili is all that mattered, not minding so much the growing boys who were probably six, five, and three.
Perhaps the boys could have been obstacles to her personal happiness.
Perhaps they did not share the sadness of a mother who had to watch the death of her own dreams.
She was young at the time, very young.
In her mid-twenties and in the prime of her youth, mother could not make it out, this life in the barrio lived as if all things relevant was reducible to some gantas of rice in the bin, some Sunday visit to the market for the provisions that included the vetsin, the salt, bagoong, dried fish, and some muscovado to taste the burnt rice for the ritual of the morning coffee.
The people said she was possessed by demons from the forests.
Her friends said she was just alive—and she abhorred the mountain fastnesses. It is too dark in there.
The people said she was a harlot trying to seduce each man that she met on the dirt roads to the barrio or to the brook down the hill that led to the seminary.
The people said she did not know the meaning of contentment.
Her friends said she knew the face of poverty and she has gotten tired staring at this face each day.
I do not want to be poor any longer, mother would tell her friends. I have sacrificed myself for so long I do not think I can ever last another day knowing that I have to put only a chupa of rice on the pot and let the pot boil and boil until the rice had expanded to a broth and you keep on adding more water in order for it to expand some more. Put in some salt to taste.
If you are lucky, chop some ginger and then sprinkle it.
Put in a lot of prayer, the prayer that I learned from the convent of Tia Madre.
I ask for grace and blessing.
Then I call my three boys who would know when to get near the hut so they can, in one full sweep, finish off their share of the meal.
I cannot bear this image any more. My boys were growing up and we were terribly poor. They needed all the nutrients their young bodies would need and we were there, on our own, on our misery, with just our prayer to keep us from falling into a deep despair.
It is not easy being poor.
It is not easy ending a beggar of your own dreams.
It is not easy begging for care and concern and love.
` I did not want any of those—and I did not want to beg. I do not want to beg.
I want more.
I want grace.
I want to have my fill in life.
I want to have some more other than rice porridge each day.
Last year the storms came to visit us in the deep of the night.
I watched the rice bin go away with the murky waters coming from the eastern hills, from the Didaya.
Oh, the waters raged.
I saw a roof of a hut popping up.
I saw a carabao trying to get out of the waters, its head bobbing up and down the flotsam that seemed to have the same rage as that of the water.
I challenged Teddy many times: You did not tell me that we will come up to this.
You did not tell me that your barrio is more miserable than the Linglingay that we ran away from.
You did not tell me that your barrio is one hell that no man should go.
We are in this hell.
We are irredeemable.
We go back to Linglingay.
Let us pack up and go.
I will tell my father we did not mean to hurt them when we decided to leave them after that harvest that they took away our entire share.
You see, they had to pay off their debt to that property owner from the ili, the one who sold us all the things that we needed before planting time, during planting time, and before and after the harvest.
It could have been worst if we did not help them.
It could have ended up in something disastrous.
I did not like the way they involved us in their path to redemption.
We have two children, by then, you see.
And I was afraid for all of us.
I was afraid for our kids.
I was afraid for our future.
I did not see our future in Linglingay because father and mother would come and visit us to ask for help.
And so I told you, let us run away.
Let us go back to where you belong.
Let us go back to the Ilocos of your youth.
Perhaps we can find heaven there.
Perhaps there is something for us in your barrio.
But we have lost all of our land, you told me. We have lost everything during the war. That is why we are here to look for the Promised Land. That is why we had to run away and in this faraway place, I had hoped that I would strike it hot, this good luck.
We do not have anything here, I told you.
I had dreamed in my mind of a love that would come to rescue me in the Ilocos, the love of my youth, the love of my heart, the love of my life, the love of my love.
I knew him in my mind: the hunter that gets into my dream that I weave each night.
IN the dark night, he would come to offer me redemption after the sacrifice, after that suffering that I had to go through with Teddy.
Poverty does not ennoble.
Poverty makes you less human.
Poverty makes you sick in the head and in the heart.
I would imagine him coming to me from somewhere and asking me if the moon and stars ever told me that he loves me.
I would say nothing.
I would not tell him anything in my dream.
I just looked at him, stare at him blankly, his face one of deep sorrow, one of deep pain, one of deep longing for someone that would love him till the end.
Something urges me on as I look at him.
I tell him in my dream: I will go with you in the hunt for the happiness we are both looking for.
And I would tie the edges of the Ilocos blanket so I would not lose his face, knot them three times the way my Bai told me when I was young.
My Bai was like a witch. She knew the meaning of the rains and the chirping of the birds. She knew the meaning of the laughter of the fire and the kissing ritual of house lizards at six.
She read the meaning of leaves on a bowl of water with the candle drippings.
Bai would sing Salve Regina as she does her reading and she would say, Hoy, you will run away to find some happiness but you will never find it. You will crack your head.
Go, go, kneel down and pray. The signos are not good for you.
Go, go kneel down and pray.
And I would pray and pray and pray but I would see him, this hunter in my mind. I was ten at the time and I knew, I knew I would run away.
First published, The Weekly Inquirer, Los Angeles, V1N25, Dec 15-21/05