I was a runaway child brought back home completely changed. From the age of twelve, it happened three more times, like a letter sent with the wrong or incomplete address, a parcel unable to reach its destination, forwarded back and forth and stamped repeatedly, the last postmark always instructing return to sender. And this to me was how it always ended: every year, I would return home, unpack my clothes weeping, crying for the more important things I had accumulated in an odyssey that came too early, the accrual of loss and discovery that could never be folded neatly and kept in a boyís closet. Alone, I had cast away everything and arrived at cities in the highlands, dusty towns in the central plains and remote villages in the eastern coast. I had risked and survived what others my age longed for, the shedding of skin, the molting of wings and the promise of flight.
One time I left and returned on my own and my parents never even knew about it. Transferred to another school at fourteen, I was sent to live with relatives up north in the Mountain Province. One morning I secretly packed my clothes and took a seven-hour bus trip down south to Manila. I knew exactly where I wanted to go when I got there.
From the bus terminal, I took a ride and went straight to the heart of the city, to Luneta, the national park. A park beckons with its open space, a place for recreation, to let time pass. With eyes peeled, a leisure walk down the entire length of Luneta can signify a passage to locate nationhood.
Facing the bay at the far end is a monument commemorating the place where national hero Dr Jose Rizal was executed by the Spaniards in 1896 for sedition and rebellion; his statue built on a granite base housing his remains. An obelisk rises behind him with three gold stars mounted on its pyramidal top symbolizing the three principal geographic areas of the archipelago. A flagpole in front marks kilometer zero, the starting point of measuring traveling distances in the country. For instance, Baguio City up north, where I came from that day, is about 330 kilometers to that flagpole. It made sense in Asiaís largest Catholic country: a martyrís death would mark the point of origin from where a Filipino locates himself. Where are you from? I am 330 kilometers away from the memory of the one who died so I will be free. Finding entails a certain dying. Designed by a Swiss sculptor and cast in Switzerland, Rizalís bronze statue faces the sea as if underscoring how we Filipinos at times see ourselves: imagined by others from elsewhere, our image attesting to our colonized past. Luneta is a place of recreation and apart from leisure and relaxation, this can also mean a place to acknowledge how we have been fabricated and reshaped. I leave and return and leave again; I lose my direction to mark my own death-dealing kilometer zero.
Between Rizalís monument and the park's other end are the Japanese and Chinese gardens and a flowerbed clock.
(to be continued) http://personalwilli.blogspot.com