I Belong to the City

Reading the intro to Chop Wood, Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life and how it says the journey begins with a single step, a memory came back to me with a bang.

I recall walking to Carol Cheong’s house in Banawe from Morato. And how long it took me, but that I was in such a foul mood, that it didn’t matter. The distance was nothing. I was using up all that negative energy built up by my dad shouting at my sister regarding the phone usage. Boy was he a dynamo at the time. I have no idea what he was so angry about all the time, and why his fuse was so poorly lit. I mean, what kind of situation brings about that kind of mentality? That you shout first and question later? I have no idea. And maybe I don’t wanna know. There are things I respect my dad for, and then there is his temper which ripped apart any good karma he may have acquired in this lifetime and replaced it with an encompassing net of negative vibrations. There is much to be said about auras.

Anyway. I remember walking along Quezon Avenue in the dinner hours, with no money at all in my shorts thus no fare… and reaching Banawe by about 7:30 or so? I stayed till 9:00 pm, asked for some money from Carol to take the jeep ride home, and came back in a far better mood, if not more exhausted than when I set out. There is also much to be said about walking. About letting the vibrations loose in the form of physical exertion. Which was how I remembered that period of life when I was jogging daily at the Stadium in Roces. And how I imagined Agnes sitting in one corner of the stands … cheering me on. Damn.

I was thinking all of this yesterday at Jollibee at lunch. While reading the intro to the book, and wondering if that would make a good intro to my Urban Commuter book, which I am gonna have published one way or another. And then I realized no, that wasn’t my first step.

I remember falling asleep on the MMTC blue bus from Ateneo, on the way home to Welcome Rotonda, as a grade school boy, at the tail end of the year, when the annual play of the Ateneo Children’s Theater was being held. I was proud to be one of the few boys I knew who took public transpo alone and was quite adept at it already. I remember falling asleep at these buses and then only waking at my stop. I have a really great guardian angel– remind me to thank God for it. And then I remember one time when I lacked 10 centavos for a ride. I searched the grounds I was walking on,…. Hoping for a miracle, and lo and behold, A 10 centavo coin that someone had dropped and providentially provided to me for my ride home. God works in mysterious ways. And my commuting story has never been the same since.

These days when I go around the city, I am still thrilled but just a tad more wary about the sights. There are sights to be had, that are disgusting and wonderful…. Sights which can only be found in the city. Sights which are a combination of the industrial and the organic. Trash, rotting buildings, skylines, statues, bright lights, concrete, eroded cement. Man-made ugliness that sometimes appears to be the most beautiful thing on earth. Depending on your company of course. And those are the days that you realize you really are an urbanite.

I was made for the city. I belong to the city.

And while rural vistas and fresh air and relaxing sea breezes cannot be beat, the truth is there is no other beauty like that which transforms the city into a large sprawling organism that we all hate and love at the same time and that we no longer believe is just a place we live in. Rather we end up adoring it for its multi-track life, and hydra-headed dangers, its combo of rotting trash and glorious skyscrapers. Its being a home for the worst of the human spirit and the best. Its greed, its hunger. And the way it consumes and then spits us all out once it has had its fill of our dreams and sweat.

It eats us up and spits us out like seeds. And we are then re-processed into the ground to provide fertilizer for the fish and the rats and the sewer demons.

And yet, in its magic moments, those times when the sun is about to rise and everything takes on a mantle of optimism and hopeful mist, the city is a happy place to be in.

Then the morning heat comes on and the traffic and the fumes and the red tape and the hot tempers, and then it’s just a plain old city again.



Speak, thy writer is listening.

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