(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.)
January 20, 2005
Things are not easy either down here.
I am at the cocoa and coffee fields of mother’s father.
Auntie Sita asked me to come by here and go figure out what are in the fine prints of our family’s mortgage with the bank.
I understand that the government’s bank—or what used to be the bank of the people but is now in the hands of the capitalists as soon as President Corazon Aquino rose to power form the ashes of her husband’s traitorous assassination by the enemy—is asking our family to pay up grandfather’s loan including the onerous interest.
Their demand is under the pain of foreclosure. So everyone is so concerned about what would become of the land if it goes into the wrong hands.
Grandfather had asked that he be buried in the land. The older sons did, his grave perched on one side of the hill overlooking the brook that irrigates our corn and coffee. So here, in these parts, is the memory of the difficult life of going through the terror of forgetting. If this land will be foreclosed, there is no way we can recover who we are.
Or part of who we are.
We all have run away from this land.
All of us.
Only the caretaker is left there, the tenant who has seen to it that after the death of grandfather, the land would be taken care of properly by believing that he will outlive all of us.
I really do not know much about loans and mortgages, you see. What has life in the religious convent taught me except to keep on with my recitation of the rosary during angelus and go after the kids of the rich during the day?
I have my degree in commerce, the education I got by sweating it out with the sisters who told me that they were working for Christ, that they were workers of Christ. I did all the sweeping and the hard labor and they were working for Christ, for Christsakes!
I swept floors and scrubbed clean the latrines of the convent school.
I prayed a lot when Lola Madre took me from Cauayan and brought me to this convent down in Urdaneta. She was friends with the sisters, you see. One of the sisters, she told me, was her novice in their convent up the hills in Baguio.
Oh I cleaned the dirt and dust of the convent, helped in the kitchen, did the laundry. And I prayed and prayed a lot too.
I prayed for healing and I prayed that Nanang would have been better as dead meat.
I was her daughter, true.
But I knew in my heart I was not her daughter too.
I was her mistake.
I was her very, very costly mistake.
People were talking in that little barrio where I came, and from where we all came from.
The nights had ears.
The days had eyes.
The winds had both ears and eyes.
The people had evil thoughts, and they thought that were right.
And true enough, I began to see the big picture.
That I was to be the reminder of that act that led to her perdition.
Perhaps I had been her first mistake.
I do not know, Ading.
All I know is that I had an elder sister.
Nanang named her Josefa after the birth name of Lola Madre who had to drop it when she took the habit and became a mistress of novices in the bright, airy, and sweet-smelling hills up in Quezon, in Baguio, that city by the hill carved out of our tropical heat by the colonizing Americans who needed to imagine what mountain air was in order to survive in the Philippines.
Josefa had bright eyes as a child. There was laughter and joy and contentment in those eyes that spoke of innocence mother knew nothing about.
She had curly hair like those of the young corn in Tatang’s field.
She lived a few months after the guardian angel left her.
She lost her name and they had to give her another name.
I cannot remember now.
Must have been Wayawaya in honor of the memory of people on a June day when at school we had all those elaborate ritual on flag raising and reciting our oath to love our country and motherland.
I remember those independence ceremonies that would require us to wear something ethnic, something that came close to a parody of the revolutionaries against the Spaniards and then eventually against the other colonizers.
How I wish I were Mother Philippines.
I would imagine my being the motherland, me in my flowing dress of red, white, and blue silk sewn by the best dressmaker in town.
In my suit of the three colors, I would declaim: “Mother Philippines, beloved teachers, parents, guests, ladies and gentlemen: I come before you to say that today marks our independence day, this glorious day of our freedom, this glorious day marking our desire to be free again.”
Even as I imagined that I would be our country, I had Nanang monkeying with my dreams.
Again and again she would run away even on Independence Day that my imagination was wildest and purest.
I was five when she first did it, as far as I know.
But then Tatang said she had run away before right after Manang Josefa died.
Maybe she was looking for her lost child, Tatang said to me one day before he decided to die and end all the shame and embarrassment Nanang brought into his house.
I say Tatang decided to die. I knew in my heart he wanted to die.
For many times he met death and each time he would spring back to life and pick up the pieces again only to end up dying again, dying gradually, painfully, taking in all the pain, the shame, the shame, and more shame.
She would run away with her free spirit with a new man.
She and her man would go to the mountains, romp the valleys, hide in forests and hills and in the bottom of seas and rivers.
She and her man would hide in the dark of the night.
She and her man would hide in the light of the young moon.
She and her man would hide in her dreams of vaudeville.
She and her man would hide in the comedia of the town, in the words of the characters she would love to mimic.
She and her man would hide in the meaningless words she would utter.
She and her man would hide in her actions of washing her hands every single second, every single minute, every single hour.
She said her hands were dirty.
She said her hands were bloodied by the death of her dream for the lost child, her dead child’s ghost haunting her, taunting her to give her some of her milk and not be selfish with the juice of her nipples, her body, and her womanhood.
She spoke of Manang Josefa in the present tense even when I was born, Tatang said.
When I was born, Nanang was calling out to Manang Josefa even as I was crying out for attention when the midwife was cutting the umbilical cord and Tatang was ready to put the other part of me on the earthen pot that he would hang in the tree top so I would end up on top of the world and not at the bottom.
I am grateful Tatang did that.
Or the Tatang that I knew to be my Tatang.
Or the Tatang that in death I realized was not my father after all.
This is where my sad, sad story begins, Ading.
There is sadness here and this sadness makes me alive.
It makes me remember.
It makes me remember all, all the details of this sorrow that has been my lot for a long, long time.
So, I write this letter to you from the land of the grandfather we never had the chance to live with because he ended up giving up so much of himself to the cause of the revolution.
He lived on this land.
He died on this land.
He died because of this land.
His death was witnessed by the trees he planted, the small brook he protected as if it were his own child, cleaning its sides, cutting the tall grasses on its sides, and shooing the reptiles that lived on its verdant banks.
I am here now to remember.
I am here now to reconnect all that which overtook us and make us hostage to the past.
I had to save my soul by getting into the nunnery and there, for years and years on end, I have thought of you all, you who are begotten of the same mother that begot me.
I never knew any place to run to. I never knew where to go.
Lola Madre, you see, had to save us. As soon as she learned that Nanang went nuts, she took charge of giving us a future.
One day she just came to Bai Regina’s house where I stayed as soon as Father had himself bitten by a rabid dog and in three weeks, he was dead.
Where would I go?
I had no one.
Our brothers had gone away looking for something real after they had their own minds.
It was a hard life, Ading.
A difficult one.
We had to part ways because there was no way we could live under one roof.
When father died, I was eleven. I just had my first of these rituals of womanhood even if I was just a child.
Manong Ben was fifteen and he was dreaming of a life of his own. So he went to live with an uncle who was a priest. The priest was running after his secretary and had many kids by the time Manong Ben caught them in the church belfry.
Duardo was thirteen. What, tell me, what could young people like us do when the only inheritance that was left with you were the bad memories, the terrible days of want and deprivation?
From this town, I will move to the field tomorrow, to the Linglingay of our grandfather’s dreams. The revolution in these parts started in his coffee and cocoa fields. There, he would entertain the revolutionaries of his fantastic tales during that revolution of his youth.
Sometimes I wonder why each generation has to have a revolution of its own.
I will write to you again when I get to Linglingay.
I will tell you about the memories that are alive because they are of the fields.
Because they are of our people.
Because they are of our earth, our piece of the earth.
With all my love now,