By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

(The novel 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 to live life they could 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. The novel is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the particularities and demands of time, losing awareness of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving her 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 wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories to inaugurate their own redemption.)

Chapter One

November 1, 2005
Waipio, Hawaii

Manang Ria,

I could not have said it in words.

I could have forgotten the right words even before I could utter any rational sound if I said this on the phone.

This is why I have chosen to write to you.

It is the time of the Internet but I have chosen to write to you the old-fashioned way.

I want our daughters to have a handle of what we have gone through and so I am leaving this letter as some kind of a trace, a palimpsest if you wish. Through this, my daughters will be able to begin to form their idea of our sad story. With this story, I hope that all our daughters will find grace and relief, that redeeming grace and redeeming relief we all have been looking for a long, long while.

It is evening here and as I light a candle in front of my house down here on Waipio that looks out on the lonely Pearl Harbor, I can sense the pain you are going through.

Darkness envelops the valley now and I could hardly imagine the silent vastness around me. Only the flickering lights come with their flimsy radiance, subdued as they are by the hidden sorrows the young night offers.

I think of myself now more often, me as an exile, an exile in so many ways. An exile through and through. A wandering, aimlessly roaming exile. I cry each time I realize I have run away from our common memories and from the land of our sufferings.

There is much pain in me as well.

This pain has no name and if you can help christen it, I will owe you my deepest gratitude. I will owe you my redemption too.

I do not know if I can ever forgive you for a past that we both do not have full control of anyway.

Perhaps, I miss so much the distinction between what you were capable of doing and that which the events in our lives simply pushed us into doing.

We were young, Manang.

We were so young—and unknowing.

And hungry.

And famished.

And unloved.

And impoverished.

There we were in that remote past of our lives fighting it out with the morsel of love that our parents were not capable of giving in the first place.

Things are not clear to me as of yet.

But I am beginning to see the bigger picture however faint the seeing is.

Many questions do come to haunt me.

Like, am I really your sister? Do I belong to you despite that fact that we do not share memories together?

Even as I ask these questions, other questions come cropping up like some kind of a ghost that does not know finitude but the eternity of lurking in shadows, in bad dreams, in phantasms.

Indeed, it is true. I have lived through all these and even from afar, I can say, I can say from my heart that I do not know you.

Well, I do not know myself either.

At a distance, I can see the hatred you have for Nanang.

I see this hatred transforming into some kind of matter, solid and hard as if it were a hardwood.

Or cement, able to withstand all the storm and the quake and the typhoon in the ravaged country, in the Ilocos as elsewhere in all of the islands where to go through the vagaries of the seasons is as quotidian as our own pains, our lamentations, our tears, our fears.

Manang, I had been so afraid of going hungry again.

Or going through the motions of everyday life without seeing any hint at that which is salvific.

I know—and deep in my heart I understand now—of your hatred for Nanang like the earthen tile that walled the convents of friars in our town in order for our ancestors to be shielded from the evil that they did, the abuses they seemed to have a natural fondness for.

O the friars!

We came from them, Manang. We came from them, from their sins and excesses and their promise of heaven.

On our mother’s side are the Martinezes of San Carlos.

They came from the illicit relationship of one Dominican friar with one of our own and the affair, consummated in the dark chambers of the convento down towards the river, bore the first ever of the Aguilars that gave us our mother’s father.

The Solvers, ha! They were land grabbers and manipulators.

Like all those mestizos who learned to live close to the municipio and close to the church and close to hearing the bells each time the Angelus was recited, the Aguilars took center stage in the affairs of the local government.

With the blessings of the friars that seemed to be as avaricious and greedy as the Aguilar whose skin had now turned to something lighter than light, something that resembled the Castilas, they gained entry to the civic affairs of the locality.

One of the Aguilars became a factotum of the gobernadorcillo. That was the beginning of more land grabbing, and the beginning as well of the Aguilars going outside San Carlos and moving to Dagupan and then eventually to the Ilocos and Isabela.

There, they had the land grants courtesy of the conniving friars, the Spanish rulers using the Aguilars for ends that had something to do with their occupational and colonial motives.

The Aguilar women played their role to the hilt as well with two of them bearing illicit sons from the illicit affairs of two more Castilas. The sons, bless them, did not live long to tell of their stories of being bastards as we all were—are.

This is going to be a long story, Manang.

I am taking the last light of the young evening to reclaim myself.

I have been running away from our memories.

I have been running away from the terrors and torments of Nanang as well even if at times I would have wanted to end it all, this striving to make ourselves saved, redeemed, forgiven.

I tell you it has not been easy, this constant running away.

Even from afar, from the islands that speak volumes of what possibilities there are for us over here, I am running away from our shadows.

And from our sad sad lives.

Our sad sad life story.

And now I say: I do not to go through this sadness again. No, not ever.

Even as I face the darkness of the night, I think of your there, all of you. This time, I am particularly thinking of you and our three other sisters.

I am not so certain if we are linked in a way with a biological father.

I am certain of one fact though: That we come from the same mother.

That we were nourished by the same body, our mother’s wild wild body, with her wild wild craving for anything that could challenge the sacred and the moral, the true and the beautiful, the good and the virtuous.

For mother did not know any of those, I suppose.

In these last lights, I can see what fragile stuff she was—is—made of.

Her imagination romped wild, went away with the many men that came after her, ran away with them to some far away places only to return to Tatang one more time.

That was a ritual, a given.

That going away and running away with her men happened many times.

Tatang was the father I did not know.

Tatang is the same father I now know.

Well, I never got to call him father.

I never even had the chance to hold his hands, feel the roughness of the calluses in those hands, feel the terror that hid in those hands, feel the sorrows hidden in between his tired fingers.

What a sad tale, this idea that I could have had the chance to get to know my biological father but the circumstances did not permit me to even say hello to him, not in a single instance that I could remember despite the fact that the little village we lived in all knew that which I should have known.

I only heard the knowledge in whispers. Do not blame me.

Now that father is gone, I do not know if I can ever forgive myself.

This business about us, five daughters of our mother of perpetual parody, what tough luck! Five daughters of three different fathers, well, that is something we can never run away from now.

We have to face this now with courage.

We have to face this now with daring.

How I wish I had that courage to tell Nanang what I have in my mind.

I cannot talk to Ditas about this.

I cannot give a hint to Lorena about what we all had to go through to destroy ourselves.

I cannot open up to Rosario about what evil visited us.

I look at the evening darkness now. There is this soft wind on my face. I feel the elements oneing with me, joining me in this sorrow, joining me in this hope for the morrow.

I close this note now, fold it three times the way Nanang taught me when I was six.

In her rare moment of sanity when Nanang was not running away, she would sit down with me and tell me stories about the hacienda of his father in Angadan or some such other exotic places to the Sierra Madres that spelled something sweet and hopeful like Sinamar.

She told me about the letters she would send to her Bai Regina in Dagupan.

The matriarch of the clan, Bai Regina had all the lands to her name.

Her two other sisters gave up their right to the land.

One of them was in the convent as mistress of novices in Baguio and who would forever dedicate her life to the cause of redeeming her family from sin. From the vestiges of original sin, she would say, in her fluid and frank Spanish.

The other sister was in Manila renting out her apartment rows to callboys and prostitutes and drug pushers aside from the regular and decent families who would come in for some time but leave right after discerning that they were in bad company. This other sister did not need much. She had sent her children to good schools and one ended up serving a President in MalacaƱang while her husband served as one of the Presidents close-in security.

Nanang wrote those letters as if there were no tomorrow, in a penmanship she learned in convent school in Baguio before the demons got into her head and eloped with Tatang to run away from the hard life of starting it out in the vast and rugged land of her father.

Nanang hated the land.

She wanted the glamorous life of the vaudeville, the superficial laughter, the paid smile, the noise for a fee.

She wanted all the dancing and the teasing on stage and so she dreamed of ending up like Atang dela Rama.

On hilltops, Nanang imagined life in Manila, in the cities, in movie houses, in theatres.

Nanang recited from memory the story of how her family had to leave Dagupan.

Her father ran over two schoolboys. They died on the spot. The families of the boys asked her father to leave Dagupan or else his whole family would be killed.

And so they had to run away, the whole family, run to where the vast lands were, rugged and needing coaxing and care and concern.

Three folds, neat and nifty for the letters. The same holds for this letter to you.

Three folds, as if in the trinity of our solemn wish to be able to forgive ourselves, to forgive mother, and to forgive each other.

Bye-bye for now, Manang.

With all my love,


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