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Dispatches

5| The Neighborhood Returns

We are on our twentieth week of April this year.

CC: 3. A ghost story

Dear Mio,

A moonrise marked the sky during my 5 p.m. walk around the village on Palm Sunday under quarantine. As I looked on, with the sun still exacting sweat from my nape, a black ribbon slithered by. It was a kite, flying so high it was smaller than mung bean. It dipped beneath the moon then swerved towards a group of kites. I counted twelve.

5 p.m. is when our streets become busy. This golden hour, which shifts thirty minutes earlier at year’s end, is the nightcrawler’s preferred time to soak in the sunlight. It’s when dogs are let loose; children, too.  Newly watered gardens, frying fish, and wafts of charcoal barbecue mingle in the air. Walking around at this time is accompanied by involuntary revelations of dinner.

My parents moved in right after their December wedding in the year the dictator fled. It was two days before Christmas and the sala was empty so my papa braved the last-minute holiday rush to ensure that they at least had a Christmas tree. We live in the western half of a townhouse duplex. All the townhouses look the same—white walls, red shingled roofs—so directing deliveries is best done by describing the cars parked in the garage or what is planted in the small garden in front of a home. Save for a two-year major renovation period when some rooms were combined, new flooring installed, and an attic (my bedroom) was added, I have lived here all my life. Now, it seems I am living all of life here.

The kites that fly above our neighborhood have evolved since March. Some of them are now tiered, looking more like ship sails, or have braided tails. I was just waiting for it, but it finally appeared: a whale-shaped kite bopping. Ha!

While temperatures in my neighborhood surge to the 30s for most of the year, April—for those who grew up with the old school calendar—is when school ends, the beginning of summer. Breakfast is had after sunrise and no alibis were needed to hang out in the basketball court all day. When my sisters and I were in our early teens, this was the month we pitched a tent in the garden where we would spend our afternoons playing cards and eating pizza we ordered using our allowance savings.

“Hello! Kamusta! Good afternoon!” the regular cast of walkers and semi-joggers greeted each other with nods that Sunday, as they do almost everyday now. We are on our twentieth week of April this year, but its endlessness this time is no cause for celebration.

There is a family of five that comes out sporadically, wearing face masks as they embark on a pilgrimage to the end of their street then back home. Nine elderly Jack Russell terriers are the mainstays of the north rotonda. An 8-meter-wide shared street separates house frontages so people who linger in their gardens or garages can easily strike a conversation with the neighbor across them. I was once caught in the crossfire of Ilonggos discussing the easiest place to grocery shop and for a moment I was transported to the small kubo in my lolo’s garden 41 kilometers south of Bacolod City. We used to chase chickens around the yard and pick santol from the trees there. My newly widowed grandfather now sits in that hut, counting days and then forgetting them. It’s a good thing that the purple orchids are now in bloom to serve as some teller of time for him.

The writer who lives on the block beside us strolls in her pink sneakers and gray cuff socks, limiting her route to the bottom of the hill and back up. I read one of her novels in second-year high school and made it the subject of my annual book report. It is epistolary in form—women writing to each other in various episodes of our national history. I only found out we were neighbors in my last year of college because she was the dissertation adviser of Doc G, my thesis adviser (remember Doc G?), and finally got her to sign my copy of her novel then. Before entering her home after one of her walks, she called out to me and invited me for tea when “this is all over.” Her body of work spans fiction and travelogues. So, although our actual interaction has been sparse, I have a treasury of questions about her residencies in Seoul, Yangon, and Beirut, which I am saving for our it’s-all-over tea time.

After a hundred days of home quarantine, I moved my workstation from our living room sofa to half of a picnic table closer to the window. I say “half” because Anna and I share the table with a white desk lamp shaped like a Brachiosaurus demarcating our sections. We also share its light when we have concurrent video calls.

Speaking of video calling; the closest I’ve been to my friends in the last five months is through its many iterations: e-numans, Netflix parties, regular Saturdates (yes, the romantic kind). Over a work call, I heard my former office seatmate take a swig of water from his metal canister and realized that it was a sound that defined my office environment. I say “former” because emails from the regional bosses indicate that working from home may be made permanent. There are many things I miss about the outside world. Having coffee with you during your trips to Manila is one of them.

The days have been all kinds of post-normal—seeing our backyard trees from my workstation, going on weekday afternoon walks with George, rediscovering romance, and, sure, whales surfing the moonrise on a Palm Sunday.

Write soon!

Angel

P.S. Homes talk. They do.

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3 replies on “5| The Neighborhood Returns”

“5 p.m. is when our neighborhood streets become busy. This golden hour, which shifts thirty minutes earlier at year’s end, is the nightcrawler’s preferred time to soak in the sunlight. It’s when dogs are let loose; children, too. Newly watered gardens, frying fish, and wafts of charcoal barbecue mingle in the air. Walking around at this time is accompanied by involuntary revelations of dinner.”

Nostalgia got the better of me as I read this piece. Your letter reminded me of the afternoons of my own childhood. With roots in Panay and Negros, I could overhear the Ilonggo crossfire. Hiligyanon is my first language. In Mindanao, we speak it with less lilt but perhaps with the same sweetness.

I am a fan. I will come back to read some more, for sure.

Oh my goodness. Hello, Lance! I just saw your comment. I rarely check this section of my wordpress. Thank you for the kind words. Take care!

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