Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stargazers Under The Starless Skies

“When your ring, middle, and index finger all perfectly lined up, you know you’re looking at Orion’s belt.”

We've been there for hours. This girl and I. Lying on the mildly damp Bermuda grasses that had been meekly moisten by the feeble evening rain. Pondering on things within, and not within, the confines of our comprehension. Looking at the vast and dark night sky dotted with stars whose names we had already forgotten or perhaps never knew at all. The weak rain had just passed, and the clouds gave way to the countless luminaries and the constellations they form across the sky. The Big Dipper ready to catch the stream from the water-bearing Aquarius. Cancer sneaking behind Gemini, trying to pluck its feet. Mighty Orion itching to shoot Leo with his arrows to the north. She just taught me how to locate Orion.

She has a blank stare. Glancing on that black ceiling laden with celestial Christmas lights. Her stare is always different from mine. And her perspective is not even the same. Not with me. Not with rest of us.

“You know what? If my fate was really written in the stars, then my sky will be starless. We will be gazing at an absolute darkness. And I won’t have the power to move a single star from one point to another or even make meteors rain. I don’t like that idea. Do you? “

This is how she differs from the others. When people look at the stars, they see what is written for them, what is coming. They read the relative positions of celestial bodies, and extract information about their personality, human affairs and other "earthly" matters. They look for portents, for astrological signs, and conclude that these directly influence their life on Earth or correspond to events experienced on a human scale. No. She doesn’t think that way. For her, they are nothing but gaseous balls of energy, perpetually held in their orbits by an unseen force called gravity, and governed by the laws of the physical universe that is yet to be completely understood by man. Not something directly tied to her fate.

I, days ago, once confessed to her that ghosts always scare me. That I’m always thinking of the immediate possibility that they will appear on the mirror while taking my bath, or they will hold my hand on some dark and abandoned place. I asked her how to get rid of it.

“You are afraid of ghosts because you need to. You are actually trading a greatly terrifying fear to a lesser one. ”

The rather confused I pleaded for an elaboration.

“Looking on all the world's religions, you can always see this concept of afterlife, of Heaven, or Hell, or just anything in between. There is this idea of a soul, of spirit, or a second life. Have you ever wondered why? Because man has to grapple its greatest fear. The fear of death. And the concept of afterlife and a soul simply gives hope that man can survive death, that he can go beyond and conquer death, which is well, doesn't have to be true. Well at least it can make him sleep better in the night. And this belief in ghosts is just another modern incarnate that remedies this ancient fear.”

I can feel my head aching during her lecture. The flood of details is suddenly too much for me. But honestly, it makes sense. Lots of sense.

She just loathes irrationality. Whatever form it will take. Superstitions. Folklore. Urban legends. Modern myths. Some unsound logic from the old people still caged by old and untimely thinking that they should have let go decades ago. At least on her opinion, they should have let them go decades ago.

“She never believed in anything. She’s your neighbourhood skeptic.”, a friend once told me about her. She is indeed, a modern girl. A product of logical discernment and fast-paced media teaching by a society that had long been freed itself from the shackles of modern folklore and urban legends. She abhors whatever thinking that her grandmother and the grandmothers before her had upheld to be true and valid. She would not think like them. At least, like most of them.

She will laugh at those who say that pilay (fracture) is the culprit when a child has fever, and that a hilot (massage) can remedy it, or that alimuong (rain dew) can cause stomach aches, so children need to drink water to circumventt it. She finds it stupid to think that people can catch cold during the rain, that gasoline can be used to get rid of lice, or calling house mice “mabait” (virtuous) will preclude them from tearing down the clothes, and that cursing them can result to a house interior tragedy. She laughs at the concept of pasma, or naipit na ugat (nerves stuck between muscle fibers), citing these things doesn't even have a medical explanation, not even a medical term for them. And of course, she hates to think that fate is written in the stars, and that it can be read.

But if ever her fate was really written in the stars, then, she is destined to live. There, the irrationalities, which she terribly loathes, played its crucial role.

Twenty-four years ago, her mother was diagnosed to be pregnant. When she is just a few millimeters big, when her primitive organs are just beginning to form inside her mother's womb and her first heartbeats are just starting to thump. It was a great blow to her mom. No. They don’t need one more child. Much less a daughter. Her family planned only for two children. A third child is definitely out of the way. Depression overwhelmed her mother. As misery went down to her, judgment and care melted down as well. Then she mother decided, her daughter had to be liquidated. Literally.

She went on with the plan. She gulped a litter of ice-cold Coca-Cola each day, followed with a dose of Cortal, a local brand of aspirin, thrice on a daily basis, trying to overdose herself, on the hope that this child clutching dearly for life and survival will be eliminated by the lethal combination of these two ingredients, and be carried along with the blood and gut that she will soon bring out.

Well, at least at those periods, her mother thought it's fatal.

It was the old times. Two and a half decades ago. When Marcos had just left Malacañan Palace and disco was still popular. The age of  urban legends.

It was the time when people believe that a White Lady was the real cause behind car accidents at the Balite Drive, horrifying (or worse, hitchhiking with) drivers during the night; or that a humongous snake lurking at the Robinson's Galleria Mall is gobbling up its customers in fitting rooms, and that actress Alice Dixon was once violated there.

Those were the days when they deemed that a Manananggal is terrorizing some parts of Metro Manila, and to further the news, that a task force was formed to hunt it down; or that the siopao’s from Ongpin has feline meat for fillings. The time when newspapers bear headlines of women giving birth to mud fishes (or lizard, frog, or snake), or of siokoy’s (mermen) swimming in the Pasig River, hunting for small children for dinner.

The time when Filipinos were convinced that the owners of Proctor and Gamble are Satanists, that their success was attributed to a deal with the Devil, and that they are funding a Satanic Church; or that Imelda Marcos sacrificed young children's lives during the construction of San Juanico Bridge, to guarantee the strength of the structure.

And of course, it was the time when people were susceptible to believe that a combination of Coca-Cola and Cortal can knock out an unborn child from the womb. Her mother is one of those people.

For months her mother would bombard herself with bottles after bottles of the cold soda drink and dozes of the aspirin, but to no avail. There were occasions of stomach aches, moderate pain, and cramping, but no miscarriages. No blood coming out from her. The child endured. Life had prevailed. Her daughter survived her desperate and diabolic, and somewhat pointless design. All thanks to these old wives tales and modern folklore. For the next few months before she was born, her mother had a broken heart. Only to be mended when she finally came out to this world. And her mother noticed, it was a beautiful face.

Until now, I know, she, her daughter, is still grappling with that reality. Possibly, it's the reason behind those glances. She's carrying the gravity within her. She turned those blank stares to me. Her eyes are asking questions. Questions that yet have to be answered. And oh, yeah, I remembered, she's asking me a question.

“What do you think?”

I don't know what to answer. I don't know how to respond. But in my mind, I believe I have an answer: Probably, that's the reason why her skies are not starless at all. Probably that's the reason why we were not looking at an absolute darkness. Because the stars had decided. She will live. It was, and has always been, her destiny.

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