Goodbye to August
ICan see from where i sit that the winds are here. The tall plants outside our perimeter, the one with white flowers, are bending over away from the small street fronting our home. across the street, the plants of the newly-transferred tenants are swaying away from that home. it must be the sun these wide leaves are seeking.
Where is this wind coming from? Is it blowing from above the roofs of the houses in our village? I am looking to the east but the wind is coming from above; this mover of trees, leaves and flowers must of purer origin. Ask me the question please: Yes, the best winds come from heaven— that unexplored part above the atmosphere. Nothing mythical, nothing scientific—the unknown holds more promises than the known.
It is breakfast and I am at the head of the table. When did I start occupying this honored place?
Ever since we moved to this old city from the island, we have gone on to live in four houses, until we settled in this subdivision. There was a house fronting the Jesuit school known for apparitions of ghost armies of Japanese soldiers who tortured and killed Filipinos during the war. A warm field of cogon grasses separated us from the American Jesuits and their unusual piety and our curiosity for the cuisine “those Americans preferred.”
The next home was in what appeared to be the rustic part of the city. Calesas, long banned from the major streets of the city, linked our place to the other side of the river. One day, for some reason, we transferred to another home behind that house at the corner where horses were tethered to shrubs. In this house, we could hear groans and mournful wails by midnight. One night, my older brother came home, drunk, and woke me up to tell me he was getting married.
I realized that each time we moved to another place, I was always somewhere—on fieldwork, fellowship or some excuses to study refugees and cultures in transit. Thus, when we
moved to another place—a house vacated by another grandmother— I was not around. By this time, our family had expanded: my brother had a family. Children were in that house. A younger brother would marry from that home. I still remember the time this brother visited us a day after his wedding. He was alone. As he was about to leave, our father asked me to accompany him till he got a ride. It was an odd request that strangely I heeded.
The grandparents who were with us from the island to this old, charming city passed away in this home.
My older brother would have a terminal sickness in this last home. Although he passed on in a hospital, we thought of that home as the place of significant deaths.
It was because of this older brother’s passing that the decision to finally build our own home was reached. When at last the family had to leave that home, I was somewhere again. I thus did not witness the tears on my nieces’ faces because they did not want to leave that place.
Now, I know why I sit at the head of this table. My father and mother are gone. A brother is in far Europe and the youngest—our only sister—is in Japan. Distance is dislocation.
My sister-in-law should be seated at the head of the table. She is too kind and gentle to allow me this male privilege. Her eldest son, my nephew, has the right also to take this spot. But he is married, has moved to another place. I am thankful not for the honor (well, the notion of supremacy is dated and contentious) but for the vantage point my chair allows me. I am able to look in front of me a window where orchid plants are. One of these mornings, buds and blooms would greet me as if the world has become an unabashedly sentimental greeting card.
When I turn to my left, the door and the window open to the porch. On the iron fence, on one of the posts is a small container. Do neighbors ever notice it? That plastic bowl contains cooked rice or bits of cookies and crackers for the birds. What do they say when I inspect it? When the rains come, and the food gets soggy, I change it with new leftovers. These tiny birds can be fastidious.
We have become ornithologists, with expertise in the area of bird diet. Sometimes, the local hummingbirds would drop by but they do not care about human recipe. They swirl in and out of the tiny flowers outside the fence. They must be the gourmet of their species.
The wind sometimes brings in a bit of chill. September and October must be there already at the edge of the blues and grays of the sky. In the morning, when the coffee is condemned to be boring, I notice more things—a huge, green grasshopper has not budged from the lintel of the door screen; lizards are creeping up the post where the bowl for birds are—are they competing for the cereal or are they bird murderers? I leave this scenario to the eternal food chain.
A butterfly with dominoes on its wings has been lately a constant citizen of the spaces my windows and door frame. In another time, this butterfly is a visitor from beyond. In this time, however, of diseases and deaths, this butterfly comes from a loss. The butterfly to be one has to shed off a part of itself, which is not its self. Not original and even a cliché, but morning life at the head of the table is never original. That seat is ephemeral. And that is assuring.