It resembled the many sunsets, the sky bathed in red. A new page that began with the story’s end. That was how the day broke in Banten, when I left.
The first sentence which I wanted to place here slipped somewhere into the clouds of my mind. But few days ago, as I walked down a hotel lobby in Ortigas, I was greeted by a familiar view of what used to be my neighbourhood nearly a decade ago. This was home, I once told a former professor in a farewell letter few weeks before graduation. “Of all places, why does it have to be Manila?” I no longer recall what was my followup to that e-mail. But eventually I would learn what she meant by that. The daily grind of waking up at least 4 hours early so you have an hour for shower and breakfast, the rest would be for travel. Once during rainy season when Shaw Boulevard was flooded, I came to work with my pants dripping wet, save for my shoes that was dry because I placed them inside my bag. Long story short, the home I called turned out to be hell. For that I returned home again and found myself happy for some four years, until it felt like home had to be another city. So I moved from one city to another, soon realising I may have made a fool out of myself by calling too many places my home. That morning, Jon may have thought of something when I was telling to a hotel staff how I missed Pasig, and that I remember those days when it was home. “Diba taga Davao ka?”
who I lost contact when I returned to the Philippines where I took so many jobs that I rarely have the chance to sit down and read all their messages on Whatsapp. I wish you can all forgive me.
I couldn’t help but pluck what probably was the remaining fruit of the mango tree this season. It had been swinging in the midst of a legion of leaves, while its cheek constantly being licked by the sun, whose heat has been the source of my agony since I went home. It gets so hot that I take midday showers when I’m working from my desk in Bago Aplaya. And each time I do, the bathroom’s window perfectly frames that hanging mangga, as if it were a picture sent by Tri, telling me that the kids are at it again, knocking at the gate, asking if it were alright to take some. I decided to pluck it, not because it didn’t deserve to be in that picturesque frame. But I just needed to turn it into rujak manis. It was the perfect time to make one because Bunda Tiwi got me bumbu kacang from Madiun, and there was ketimun, apel, and nanas in the fridge. She knew I have been in terrible shape since I went home, even long before I began to realise that my Indonesianised appetite would become a problem. A trivial problem I kept as a secret because on the same island where I now live people are being killed — so what makes mine a humanitarian crisis? But each day food without sambel or at least bumbu kacang felt like my rights were violated. So each time I went somewhere, grabbing food for lunch or dinner was tough. I didn’t want to go near a carinderia who knew nothing about sego pecel. So I picked only those food vendors whose goods I can associate with Java. Ginanggang is close enough to pisang bakar, and Coffee Americano to kopi tubruk. At night, I’d run to Mandarin for fish curry and jasmine tea — both remind me of that warung nasi padang along Jalan Raya Sengkaling which Latif says served bad rice. I would turn down requests from my friends who ask to meet after work, because everytime I do, my tongue suffers a lot. Always, when I want to speak in Filipino or Cebuano, my mouth blurts out Javanese words, that now, to save myself from embarrassment, I would rather not throw questions at a press conference broadcasted live. Because even if I spoke in English, surely someone would accuse me of faking a cable TV accent (yes, someone rubbed this in my face). Now I regret rolling my eyes when I could not believe Robin told me he had a lidah pecel when I took the whole gang to Pizza Hut a day after I arrived from Jakarta. I thought he was faking it when he said pizza wasn’t his thing. I never understood that until I returned to a Filipino home where a mango tree fulfills a rujak nostalgia, and where someone has been cursed with lidah pecel. Jancuk.
On Saturday nights, you’d ask me what I plan to do. Sometimes, you’d do that on a Sunday, to which I’d usually say no, nothing in particular. You’d suggest we’d go to a coffee shop somewhere along Soekarno Hatta, and I’d immediately agree. There was no agenda. No questions. We just hopped on our bikes and grab anything to drink to borrow a nice sofa to sit on. When we’re lucky, there were board games lying near the cashier’s spot. You’d show off new shapes you could make out of your stupid vape, to which you claim was a healthy alternative, while I slowly die of Marlboro. We would play Uno, a game I always end up losing. An unfamiliar tune out of a dangdut music was enough to make me giggle and the blocks collapse, as if a president just brought the house down after poking fun on television how stupid the guerillas were. But we’re better than them, and we definitely never argued about who among us had better ideas, or who was speaking higher truths. And we knew it was alright that the blocks toppled down, and what joy it was to start from scratch again, because eventually I’d win. But then it would take me a long time, and when it happened there was nothing amusing about it anymore, and we’d go home right away. And by the way, talking about other people’s lives wasn’t part of the amusing things to do in our books. We talked about great ideas when there was no Uno around. And the kilometric talking was often done when Andi was there, who turned our weekends into academic discussions. How is he doing by the way? I often think of you both, and when I do that I end up staying awake until the wee hours. As I write this, right next to me is an unfinished novel Pulang. You’ve seen that book, right? Its title screaming as if begging me to pulang, like how you insist that I go home. And by that you don’t mean that I go home to the Philippines. Well, wait for it. I will.
I hope you didn’t despise it that much. To grab ketoprak one morning in the month of ramadhan was my idea. Somewhere, not far from the Bung Karno monument, an abang was manning his lonely kaki lima, probably hoping there were kafirs who would pass by for a plate of ketoprak and teh botol. I couldn’t finish the ketoprak which had so much lontong in it. The sudden bloat inside made me feel guilty, that I ran out of ideas on where to head next. We walked to a direction of who knows where, until we hopped into a Transjakarta bus, where I, by impulse, bought myself a flash card despite knowing it would be of no use when I return to the Philippines. Months later, I sat inside a lonely coffee shop in Davao, where I ran for shade. “Sige lang ko’g kamatay,” says the abang at the cafe. Outside, people stuck out their umbrellas to keep them dry as they wait for cabs that would later reject them once their driver learns they’re heading south, where a creek appears on McArthur Highway when it rains. Going back, the abang meant he kept on dying each time he restarts the game, who knows what game that was. He was behind a tall cashier table — and I only heard a radio and the droning of the air conditioner. He kept on dying yet he kept on trying and clearly there was no way anyone could take his face off the phone — just like one afternoon when we were aboard Transjakarta, when your face was glued on the phone, texting someone on our last time together. I did not entertain the idea, until we reached Grand Indonesia where the thoughts crawled out of my pores, when you were busy fitting in the clothes you would buy. As you were engrossed finding clothes that would match you I couldn’t ward off the demons that were teasing me of the thought that you had to entertain another guy. Few minutes later I hear an abang say “pildi gyud siya.” He lost. Was he referring to me? At that moment in Jakarta, I asked why you had to do that. That while we were on an escalator that dragged us up to another floor, I felt some force was pulling me down, my thoughts perhaps. I thought we have talked about that? Our feet took us near a bench where we would later sit on. Maybe I was assuming, maybe I was dreaming so much about sunsets at Kuta, or dreaming too much of taking you to Surabaya on my bike and you’ll grab me by my hips as I tell you stories about the streets we would pass. That despite the fact that on that day, my hours with you are numbered and I could not promise of another day together. You ran into the washroom, where I would not hear you sob. Later as you return — you told me that you were wrong — yet I felt bad. Maybe I put people on the pedestal, forgetting that I was meeting someone else? But maybe I was frustrated by the fact that flying to Jakarta I end up getting this? We head to a cafe, where I ordered coffee so I can light a cigarette to cool down. You remained quiet, this time afraid of saying anything. I laid my arms on your shoulders, assuring that things are alright now. Hours later, we hopped on an Uber car back to the hotel, where nearby you shopped for chopped fresh fruits, whole wheat bread, noodles, and yogurt for sahoor. Back in the hotel we had to wear citronella lotion to drive a legion of mosquitoes off. On the bed, our bodies were one, as I played a song that began with a poetry about a bustling city, perhaps about Jakarta. Or us. We only slept for a few hours. I was flying back to Malang early morning — and you were thinking twice about whether it was a good idea that you come with me to Soekarno Hatta. And I was yet again aghast at why you even had to think of that, though you eventually agreed to come with me. I held your hand, as the driver apparently recognised who I was. I let him talk about how his life had been in Jakarta — while I savour those remaining — last remaining hours which I once thought I wanted to be the last. We were quite early, and we still had time, so I asked if I could light another cigarette — this time, to distract me from the looming sadness that engulfed the international gate. Yes, I still think of that moment thousands of miles away, in a city that is constantly washed by torrential rain, and where memories refuse to fade.
Tell me of the stories you plan on writing today, so I have an idea how to prepare, says the editor who just got up from a nightmare. The cars mumble on the other side of Jl Jakarta. The nearby mosque is muffled — the azhan is only being screamed in the air. Bromo has been spewing ash — and the editor is wary of the stories that might cascade on what should have been his day off. He’s imagining sipping teh tawar somewhere, probably Surabaya, or Lombok, or Hanoi. But there he is on Jl Jakarta, in agony, waiting for stories take their own shape.
In front of him, few chairs north, few rows, separated by wooden chairs painted in burnt brown two men whose hair were thinning wrap each other in their arms. A lady in red, at the back, scrolls the glowing glass, pretending she’s doing something really important. She tilts her head and looks above. An antique electric fan is spinning. What if it falls down, she wonders.
Sometime last year, at a book festival in Indonesia, I approached an author to ask her if she was carrying copies of her book. For some reason, Gramedia does not carry titles under her name so I thought maybe I could get it directly from her. I was happy to learn that she brought one of those novels I had been looking for. “But it’s expensive, mind you,” she said.
At that moment, I didn’t have time to process what she said. My excitement to finally get a copy of her work filled the air. “Oh come on, I don’t mind at all!” I said, and them my ego started to diminish. As I reached home, I found myself devouring a plate of gorengan I bought on my way from the event. “Does she seriously think I can’t afford her book?” I asked myself, with a part of me wanting to e-mail her not as a fan, but as a GMRC (good manners and right conduct) police. Today, I look at the books I shipped from Indonesia to the Philippines and imagine how much I’ve spent for these so they can reach my new home. What if I sent her that message? Will it matter? Looking at it now — I learned that in life there will always be people who think you can’t afford ‘it’. ‘It’ can mean an MBA, a brand new car, a house, or an ideal body weight. But you know what? What they think about you doesn’t matter. Perceptions don’t pay books, get loan applications approved, or help lose weight. It’s what you’re doing that makes you move forward. So don’t let .
What if at that moment, the author was just worried that the quality of her book didn’t quite match the price tag? Well, anyway, I don’t think much of that moment now. In case you ask, the book was around $5.00 — roughly the same cost of my Apple Music monthly subscription — or a trip from home to work by cab.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a wonderful reading on the same topic.
It’s the grueling time of the year again where I need patience: immigration paperwork. Often, I meet the most undesirable people who don’t seem to be helpful in processing my permits. As it turns to be unbearable, I ask my self a question: what the hell am I doing here?
This morning, when that question popped in my mind, I happened to notice the unripe mango fruits of this tree standing outside my house. Trees are a metaphor to me. They remind me of the universal truths, like there will always be a time for flowers to bloom. Likewise, there will be a season for them to transform into fruits. Though at times they won’t — but there’ll be another time that they will. What is this mango tree doing here? No one knows. Maybe to ask what am I doing here is a question that’s not too fruitful to pursue. Or maybe, I should ponder on things like if I were to imagine that I were a tree, what fruits do I want to bear? I want to bear fruits of hope. So wherever I am planted, my existence is a gift to anyone around me. But then the pessimistic in me asked: what if the fruits of hope fall into the ground and later turns out to be of no use? I look at the tree again. The fruits may rot, but later the seeds they carry will turn into new trees. Or, whatever happens to the fruits the mother tree has given birth to, she remains to be a tree. No more, no less.