Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When We Dreamed of Green Lawns

I had seen it coming but was ill prepared for it nonetheless. We were four bodies cramped in a car made for two, silent because our thoughts flew us far away from each other’s stabbing elbows. Beside me, Mom positioned her lips into a smile, patting my hand before turning back to the window. She was lost. So were we. In the back of the small minicab was three generations worth of belongings, stacked so high that tree branches rustled when we pass by. I open the window halfway and let my hand feel the wind, soft and humid. At that moment, I had seen my world for what it was, beautiful. It passed by so quickly; it didn’t even have a chance to engulf me. Passed the well-mowed gardens that were once our neighbors’, we trundled quietly like thieves, hoping to merge with the surroundings. But we could not. We didn’t belong there anymore.

I would not cry, I promised myself but the smell of urine and Lysol mixed together in the tiny, two-level apartment was just too much. The landlords must’ve sprayed some on hoping to get the stench out before we arrived. It didn’t work. I pretended not to smell it, perching the stack of my belongings in the sofa whose vinyl upholstery was bursting up at the seams. At the back of my mind I wondered who could live like this, then as I looked at my parents pushing our mattress in a door that was too small, I choked back tears, knowing that we would from now on.

That evening, my sister, Rina, was asked to buy soft drinks at the nearby sari-sari store. We were to celebrate, as my father jokingly said, the start of a new life. I knew by the grimace Rina purposely placed in her face that she didn’t want to. Still, she silently followed with me tagging behind her. I knew she did not want to be touched, and so I awkwardly skidded beside her, the tricycles and trysikads whizzing at my right. The sand they left behind stuck to our shirts and slippers. The sari-sari store, Joy and Janet’s, was small, full of little knickknacks that I would’ve loved as a child. I remembered vividly when Mom used to scold us for buying from outside vendors at the Catholic school we studied in. We would watch with childlike fascination at the colorful treasures the toothless vendors had to offer: green mangoes with bagoong, whistle candies, jackstones and even goldfishes in plastic packs. Back then, it was like an adventure. Rina and I would happily go back to the lawns of the school fa├žade with small paper bags of peanuts stashed in our pockets. As was her statement, she would tap the huge sign emblazoned on the school gates. NO VENDORS ALLOWED, it read.

Now what faced us was a variety of household items that we find no familiarity in. Nothing seemed to be sold whole, all in tiny plastics from mongo beans down to the dirty-looking cooking oil. Joy or Janet, seemed busy making her cell phone suffer and had yet to find the time to entertain us. Rina seemed unsure of what to say. It hurt just to look at her. Rina, the overachiever whose knack for public speaking won an award or two, was unsure of what to say. Joy Janet took one look at my sister’s mestiza features, signaling what would seem to be a territorial warning. She saw what we still could not see then: We did not belong there either.

Dinner passed by quickly. My sister and I allowed Mom and Dad to talk between us while we chewed as if food was the most important issue. On and on they talked, about the apartment, about the grease in the pan, about selling more things, about the new neighbors, about us. Then when they ran out, my parents hurriedly rushed to wash the dishes. They weren’t doing a very good job at it, the soapsuds still sticking to the surfaces even when they tried their hardest to wash it out. Before I go to the bathroom to take my evening bath, I look at the clutter of what would be our house from now on. It struck me as funny how it was full of odds and ends that didn’t seem to fit each other, the expensive ceramics sticking out in the plastic containers, the Persian rugs opulent in the vinyl floors and the commissioned painting of our family out of place in the blemished walls.

For the first time since we were children, Rina and I shared a room. In the darkness, I could hear her sobbing, trying to stifle it with a pillow over her mouth. The sheets she held on to were damp with her sweat. I could not comfort her. Didn’t know how. So I closed my eyes and imagined I was still in my old room, the clutter of familiar belongings surrounding me. I saw the Nancy Drew books Mom gave me for my 7th birthday, the dream catcher I kept at my bedside. So many things. So many. I try to touch them but all I felt were soaked sheets.

That night I dreamed of our school’s wide open quadrangle. I was there, hopping in and out of the rectangle blocks like hopping over graves. I loved that part of our school. It was, as a seminarian friend used to say, the succinct following of religious architecture. An open space enclosed by four high walls, as if God wanted to keep something in or prevent something from coming out. I sat Indian-fashion in the lawn as the stone blocks revolved around, surrounding me as if I were the sun until what was left to touch was only the grass, the pebbles, the dents where the stones used to be. My face felt grass prickles and its morning dew surrounding overnight growth. I forced myself to think that was the only reason the corner of my eyes were damp.

Written back in 2007, finished in 2009. Just keeping it here for sake of organization.

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