My mother always told me that the easiest way to walk was in a straight line. It would always get you somewhere, she believed. One night, I chose to follow her somewhat twisted philosophy. Twisted, because there are no straight paths to walk in Manila, a maze of a city.
The streets were lit with small, flickering streetlamps that gave off weak glows. I followed a few night shadows, hearing nothing but soft whistle of the January wind. The sidewalk was uneven, my shoes, scratched and dirtied from constant dragging. This was how it was walking aimlessly over the remnants of the day --- cigarette butts left crushed and scattered by the numerous strangers and university students, empty plastic cups, crumpled bags of chips and multi-colored candy wrappers bathed in murky puddles of floodwater from the rains that happened in the afternoon. Strange street smells hung sleepily in the midnight air. I stopped only to make sure I had not wandered too far, or rather, if I had wandered far enough to get away --- to get lost, until I finally crossed to Antonio.
In the daytime, it is alive with movement and idle chatter, Food hawkers manning their stalls, homeless children begging for their next meal, and stray dogs rummaging though the garbage dominate the scene.
It was the darkness that enveloped this street that gave it its eerie magic that drew me in, a stillness that was never there in the day. I was surprised at where my feet had taken me. I sat the curb, relieved that I could finally hear myself think.
I wasn’t always like this you see. I wasn’t always lost, wanting to run away, always feeling the need to move, to leave. I was a good girl, someone who knew what it was she wanted, I colored inside the lines, and people loved me for doing so. You would never find my old self wandering recklessly at such an unholy hour. A Dean’s Lister, my late nights were spent at a desk in a world of hi-liters and coffee instead of partying under the bright lights of Manila, a beer bottle in hand.
In the deafening silence, Antonio’s mystery slowly unraveled itself to me. I watched insects as they scurried up and down the chipped cement walls. The existence of little lives, unseen, but felt in the darkness. Eyes, I was quite certain, eyes were watching me.
And I let them watch,
It was as if they owned me. They watched with penetrating stares, just as they had watched me as I lost myself to the city. Little by little they waited for me, to crash. Here, I became the city’s plaything, clay that had been molded to conform to the world’s alien norms. I came to discover what it really meant to be lost; that lost was not just an adjective one uses to describe something that has gone missing; the absence of small, insignificant things taken for granted. Getting lost, I realized, was an act I slowly succumbed to.
With a sigh, I stood up to stretch my aching limbs. Looking around I noticed a moth flirting playfully with the streetlight. As a child, I often wondered what it was about lights that attracted moths. Was it the glow? The warmth? Or simply because they had nothing else to do? No place else to go?
I felt much like that moth. Once so free, yet sadly misguided to a senseless existence of cigarettes, alcohol, pretentious friendships, and unrequited love. The first time I had smoked was with a boy I had fallen in love with. His voice echoed in my head.
“You have to breathe it in,” he said. “Taste it.” Inhale. Exhale. I coughed as my throat itched and a bad taste began to spread in my mouth. He snatched the cigarette away from me saying I was never to do that again. He smoked the rest of it and lit another one.
It was a quiet kind of love, unspoken, instead written down and locked away; a love whose voice I kept hanging at the tip of my tongue; a love that was a different kind of lost, a different kind of lost, and a different kind of lust altogether. It consumed me, all of me. Entirely. And then, he left along with the rest of the world. The word “lost” then became synonymous to a kind of drowning --- to drown, and I did: in beer, in tears, and in thoughts.
“Cruel, isn’t it?” I asked in the moth’s direction. “How this world has a way of making us fall in love with the wrong people? How people never seem to stay in one place for too long? How we all wake up one day and realize that we have just completely lost ourselves? That our souls have wandered off?”
Everybody gets drunk to forget, or at least I do. It was in one of those hole-in-the-wall eateries at the far end of the street that I first discovered the wonders that beer had on a person who had no desire to remember. I went there weekly, dragging whoever was available along with me. I listened to them as they told their stories in drunken slurs. Soon, our bodies reeked of alcohol, our faces red. The round table drenched in spilled beer and cluttered with greasy plates and peanut shells.
I watched as my friends walked haphazardly around the room, cursing under their breaths. Some had forced themselves into a zombie-like stupor and had taken to some sort of sleepiness, their heavy heads hung low. Others sobbed hysterically in corners. I, on the other hand, stared at the ceiling. With my chair toppled over, I watched the swirls of dust and thick smoke form in the air and knew I was somewhere I didn’t belong. I wanted to forget, to figure out why I was living all to fast, who it was I was becoming, where my old self had gone. In those moments, I looked for myself, Instead of forgetting, I remembered.
Someone once asked me if I have ever regretted losing myself, a question I have yet to answer. To say yes would be to lie. To say no, would also be to lie.
That night, I thought: Maybe, at some point in life, getting lost is something that everyone has to go through, a trick that the universe plays on everybody --- shaking our worlds out of order. Maybe, we are all moths flirting with the deceiving light of life. Maybe we really are supposed to lose ourselves to the people we love, letting them leave and take a piece of our world with them when they do. We must let them leave and freely become figments of our being, where they tuck themselves away neatly, quietly along with distant memories of laughter and sadness. Maybe we are all meant to walk aimlessly at night, our heads down, as if in search of the broken pieces of ourselves, amidst the remnants of the past. Perhaps, we are just too blind to recognize that indeed, these remnants are the fragments we are looking for. Maybe, if we all just walked straight lines, we will find our selves waiting right where we left them.
I looked in the direction of the light, only to find that it had gone off and the moth had flown away. The breaking of dawn signaled me to walk toward home.
The city would soon wake.
Won 2nd Place (Essay Category) in the 26th Gawad Ustetika Awards at the University of Santo Tomas.