A sense of place.

There are places that are more themselves than
others, and the old house in Cavite is one of them. It is steeped in the
obstinacy of my mother’s mother, who passed away more than a decade ago. I have
a painting, amateurish acrylic, of how I remember her most: sitting beside the
window, her legs pulled up to her chest, slowly chewing, perhaps a soda biscuit
dipped in lukewarm water. This habit of watching the outside framed in old wood
and squares of capiz shell, always alone, I saw again and again not just in her,
but in others of her generation, as they slowly coagulated in their

Upstairs, underneath my uncle’s
oh-so-crusty-old-bachelor mess, I can feel the iron will of Lola Sinyong, the
starched blouses still in their rigid piles inside old wooden cabinets. My uncle
still lives there, as he has all his life; and yet dust seems the more visible
tenant. He had a chance to work outside the country, once when he was young, but
my grandmother stopped him – the story is that she was scared to have him leave
her side. I wonder what his life would have been, had he gone to Guam.

Living elsewhere can change you, the act
of uprooting also an opening into another self: someone who has no embarrassing
childhood snapshots, no enemies, no proof of a previous life save that which you
choose to pack along with your passport. Or it can make you even more
insistently yourself. I have seen Lucky Plaza in Singapore on a Sunday, when it
transforms into the Filipino househelp version of Baclaran, the loud melange of
Tagalog and packed adobo lunches assaulting Singaporeans hurrying by.

Extreme familiarity gives you the same
permission as extreme strangeness, to be yourself. I think we are most careful
when around acquaintances and almost-friends, to use the right words, to not
burp, to pull down our shirts when we stand. There is an expression my mother
“Ikaw naman, para ka namang ibang
You’re acting like you’re different, not
one of us. She says this to a guest who lingers a heartbeat too long in the
doorway, or to someone who hesitates before serving herself from the table. If
you’re one of us, act like it. Step through the door. Eat what you want. Sit
near the window as any of us would. This is also your home.