Friday, June 21, 2013

The Secret of Artemis

On the thirtieth of June, the man who will one day promise her the sun was born. Thirty years later, the world will once again live in the absence of light, and she will be the brightest mortal in that darkest juncture of our history. Marcus, the fool who kept his word without the benefit of prudence, fulfilled what fate forbade him to accomplish. Although Artemis refused his celestial offering, there was nothing she could do. The moment Marcus swallowed the sun, the die is cast. It would take another century before the universe could give birth to a new star at the heart of our planetary system. In the interim, Artemis, she who, for the life of her, could never forsake a man whose sole pleasure is to refute his destiny as another creature of life and death by consuming that ball of eternal fire and knifing his belly open for the world to witness; Artemis, the proprietress of the sun, she who has become the arbiter of night and day and the sole measure of the seasons, the one to decree the shortest summer that will ever be known to those who will never forget; Artemis, she who will bend time at the behest of a lonely heart, for Marcus is dead and still none the wiser, wishing to escape the afterlife and return to earth so that he can promise her the moon just as well; Artemis, the light having blinded her, will try to rid the world of its shadows.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

She Who Lived Forever

I remember her as the girl who, with her brown eyes, would bid the clouds to hide the moon, like a hand drawing the curtain shut, so that she can be at peace in her home that is the darkness around her. On a night like this when the fireflies skim here and there, a night when the crickets sing the ancient mysteries of the earth, our lady would be sitting at the top of the hill — her throne of clay and stones, the bluegrass beneath her toes. Her lips would slightly part but not even a whisper would issue from those tender devices meant for unfettered displays of affection. Arms to her sides and face to the Southern Cross, she would slowly rest her back on the ground, herself surrendering to a force unseen, like gravity. In that moment, she is as free as the fallen leaves of the first day of autumn, which is something that this tropical country will never have.

Each day before sunset I’d find her there, sitting silently, as though she’s an irreplaceable fixture in that cycle of the sun, a stoic superimposed against the backdrop of a borderless black about to veil the sky. I would pass her by and she would remain still. There were times when I was tempted to look back, to find out if she does anything else other than marveling at something in the distance. But nothing could probably stir her. Even when under the rain, she’d do nothing. Maybe it’s her intention to shelter herself under these fragile drops that fall by the millions, turning her invulnerable because, after all, water is the stuff of life. Or perhaps she just doesn’t care.

Except that day when, in a way, she did. It was the fifth of September. I was on my way home from the city. The alcohol in my bloodstream slowed my pace, and I moved about as if I was dragging my head with my feet. In the distance, lightning cut across. It began to rain when I reached the foot of the hill. I looked ahead and there she was. I stopped and stood as straight as I can. She was sitting the way she used to, like the subject of a Renaissance portrait, her neck exposed, the stranger of a woman who projected her face to a hidden moon at the cost of hoisting it like a cushion for a thousand liquid needles. And then something happened. She slowly lowered her face from the direction of the sky to where I was. For the first time, she looked at me, as though she was staring at an unexpected presence, a disturbance in her solitary ritual.

She had something on her lap. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was from where I stood. It looked like a box, perhaps a square frame. Suddenly, she took whatever it was and hid it behind her, placing both hands with it the way one would stow away from view that which must be kept concealed when confronted by guilt, one that was brought on by the untimely discovery of a secret. All the while, she kept her eyes on me.

By the time I lifted my eyes from our mutual gaze, my feet were already moving me closer to where she was, as if someone willed them to life. I stopped, looked ahead again, and she was gone. I ran up the slope of the hill, dazed and confused, until I was standing at the top. I was alone. It was the first time I broke into her world like a thief in the dark, and it would also be the last, for the nights that followed she was no longer there.

I returned to the hill two days after. I learned that it was neither a box nor a frame that she had with her the last time she was there. It was a book. It was mine, a novella I wrote, literally, two years earlier. It was a distraction I forced myself to author back when I was stranded between love and life, something to help me make sense out of all the tragedies flailing my conscience, a book with more spaces than words, like a sac of air wedged in the middle of a cluster of rocks. When I found the book at the top of the hill, it was still almost intact, except for the prologue. The page was ripped out, and what remained of it was the creased length that refused to be taken away by brute force. Maybe it was her way of saying that she had to take with her the birth of a story written for the sake of finding reasons when there are none. I cannot remember now what I wrote in the prologue.

Once I sat beside the spot where I would often see her immersed in that vision of the Southern Cross floating in the tranquil dusk. Somehow I could feel her, though to my eyes she is never there. If only she’d reappear from the wisp of cloud lining the eastern front, I wouldn’t let her vanish easily the way sunsets do.

Years later, I realized who she could have been. She’s a nomad, a restless wanderer, but not the ordinary kind. I imagined her warping through space and time in pursuit of something, or someone, travelling through all the years gone and those that are yet to be because that is all there will ever be to her eternity. And yet, for her, something is terribly amiss. There can only be one reason: although she is the girl who lived forever, she’s perpetually condemned to live outside of her own time, the generation to which she was born, for reasons only she will know — if at all there is any.

May the Fates favor their beloved daughter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Under the Shinjuku Summer Sun

I remember the day when I left the country in search of the home where my heart is. Standing at the platform, I watched the train leave Sendagaya Station until it was nothing more than a silver dot in the distance. From that point on, I was a stranger again in an unfamiliar city, taking my chances with only this nostalgia to guide my way.

It was not what I was expecting about that part of Tokyo. All the while I thought the train station barely had enough elbow room for commuters to stand their ground as they wager against the perils, the unguarded moments, of forced intimacy, and the transitory nature of life in that corner of an equally transitory city. But by the time I stepped out of the train, I was proven wrong. Walking beyond the yellow line on the floor, I joined the few people making their way towards the platform exit. The flight of steps led into a small underground chamber where panaflex signboards line the white walls. In that stretch of closed space under the fluorescent light, the clatter of our footsteps echoed like truncheons pummeling every bone in the human body. Or at least that was how they sounded to my ears. I turned left and saw the row of turnstiles a few steps ahead. In lieu of the voice from the public address system, I heard the sound of passing cars.

I waited at a nearby coffee shop — Beck’s Coffee Shop. If you’ve been to Shinjuku before via Sendagaya, you will easily find it at the east side of the station. For two hundred and ten yen, I tried to enjoy a cup of their signature brew, the taste of which I can no longer remember. Perhaps I was too busy minding the taste of anxiety in my throat at the time.

A little after one o’clock, she finally arrived. By then, I could taste nothing. My mouth must have voluntarily numbed itself.

It was like first year college all over again, as if God plucked her fresh from my memory so that I saw what I badly needed to see. She was lovely, her beauty undiminished by a decade, not even a day. Judging by the way she dressed herself, she’s still the girl whose skintight jeans give her curves the justice they deserve, whose blouse dignify the arc sloping from the side of her chest to her hips. If looking at her is a crime, I should have died by way of capital punishment then and there. She pulled up a chair and sat next to me, as if it was the most natural gesture one should anticipate from someone who, after a long time of absence, is never required to explain herself.

“What brings you all the way to Tokyo?” That was how she began — with a question, like an inquisitor that demands the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from a pathological liar, though I was not one.

“I’ve heard that you have stolen a thousand hearts and that you have no intention of returning them to their owners,” I said. “I’m here for what I believe is mine.”

“Your heart?”

“No,” I smiled, “yours.” It was the truth.

Looking back, my audacity to tell her once and for all what I was hoping to tell her all along was the biggest risk I ever took. I was not prepared to travel back home by plane with a heart thrice heavier than when it first reached Japan. Wherever you go, airports have limits for the weight of excess baggage. When I said it, her face was blank I was almost tempted to etch my own smile onto her lips just to give her some semblance of life. It was clear; she was not ready for this day.

I asked her what her plan was for the afternoon. Without hesitating for a moment of thought, she said she’s supposed to take a walk until sundown at the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden with someone, a man she said she has grown into liking for the last several years she has lived in Japan. I looked at her, and for a minute I was speechless, almost shaking my head in disbelief. I cast my eyes on the floor, trying to understand how and why she would not even bother to spend the rest of her day with someone who just travelled a thousand miles in pursuit of her. I found myself yet again in the face of uncertainty. I felt my heart implode and shrink into the size of a congenital wart. But then she extended her hand to me, and she said:

“So, will you hold this while you and I stroll until sundown?”

“Touché,” I quipped. My worst fear subsided. I held her hand and we stood. It was a short walk to the Shinjuku garden, and by nightfall I have finally known the taste of summer from her lips.

It was there in the garden, surrounded by cherry trees, cypresses, and Himalayan cedars under the Shinjuku summer sun, more than ten years after, that I finally understood. That’s another story, but let me just put it this way: I was searching yet I was the one found.

This song practically nails what I am yet to say.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Kung ang puso mo ay kapirasong lupa, dito ko nais mahimlay.

Ten years ago on this day, I met her. It was a Saturday and the grassy field, golden under the sun, felt the grace of her hands. My life was never the same since then. In those few occasions that I saw her, I have always felt my solitude reveal itself like a drop of light at midnight. She is capable of breaking the strongest of hearts, this I know now, and yet she remains the only truth I know. This is my clandestine affair with a memory old enough to have its own voice.

When I heard the sound of a page ripped off from my sketchpad, I turned around. She held the paper between my face and the morning light.

“Who is she?”

“Someone I used to know,” I said, looking at her, and then the portrait.

“You mean ex-girlfriend.”

“No. She wasn't, not even for a moment.” If jealousy had a shape, it began to form on her lips.

“What’s her name?”

“Like yours.”


I stepped out of the house, hoping that the wind might give my heart the calm it deserves. Out in the garden, I remembered wishing to tell the girl in my past that the shadow of her heart is my shelter from the sun.

Sometimes I wonder if I have corrupted my sense of history. Ten years have already gone and yet I feel stuck on that day. Maybe it is because for the first time in my life I found the future I intend to keep. I found it in her.

“Seventh among the thousands who passed the board exams? She must be a god. I’m sorry to say this but, clearly, she’s out of your league,” Paul said, stretching those last four words as if he was forcing them from his teeth and out into the open.

I extended my hand and felt the raindrops on my palm. Cold. Beyond the rusty roof of the waiting shed, I could barely see the sky. “This rain might take a while,” I quipped.

“You’re not listening.”

I wasn't, of course. My mind was somewhere else, some other time, because time zones are too strange for someone who has never really been anywhere except the places she once has been, like this same spot where I find myself now at the mercy of the weather. I am where she was in the past and she is where I will be in the future.

“Japan,” I mumbled.


I hailed the approaching passenger jeep and clambered aboard, leaving Paul behind at the waiting shed with the strangers marooned by the heavy rain. Japan.

Almost all of my high school friends are either married or engaged. Some who tied the knot at eighteen, barely more than a year into college, already have a child or two. Some others who waited until twenty-five have their lives figured out, like a master plan that will be built as certain as the eastern sun breaking another long summer night. Two of my friends will exchange their vows this year. For once in my life, marriage was unthinkable, but today I am afraid it is the only possibility I must take.

From time to time, I imagine myself waiting for her at the end of the aisle, she in her gown long enough to drag the world beneath our feet, changing the course of our personal histories and mending what must be healed once and for all, because we have lived enough years of solitude and it is about time for us to call that day the start of forever. She will say I do and I will say I do, too. And we will kiss.

I dreamed of her last night, and she said I will, future tense, like a promise. Sometimes I just want to reach my hand into the future, as if it is a pocket, and take what is hardly mine.

There is one way to let you know who she is to me: compress the rest of the universe in a human body, a divine creation that no god can ever shape, let the weight of every atom there is collapse in a single quantum, and you have your answer. Take her away and I might as well live a life without the sun.

Or simply, I learned to play the guitar, learned the sound of music, so that I might sing her the only song I will ever need to write. But now I have no one whom I could sing all the songs I wrote. She is elsewhere, and so is my music.

She is and has always been the sole reason why I write. She is the thread of truth that holds my fiction together. If by chance she might one day read this and everything that I have written, I can only hope that she would question me. I have at least ten years' worth of answers waiting to climb their way from my heart. But that would be pushing my luck to absurd lengths.


“There's no reason why I should,” I said.

“Oh stop fooling yourself. Can't you see? She's not into you. How can you still not see that?”

“Not into anyone, actually. Not yet. Maybe not until she's thirty.”

“The optimist in you. The church should consider making you a saint after you die.” Her eyes began to gather tears. “Why do you have to chase her all the way to Japan? You're crazy.”

She held me and I held her back. “I am. She's driving me mad.”

An hour after, I left the country in search of the home where my heart is.