December 5, 2022

The afternoon shower heralded the coming of summer and the late morning sun burned hot through the window of a jam-packed vehicle on my way to the university campus. I hang around with my post-grad classmates and work on our assignments. I was busy relieving my college days with occasional visit to coffee shops, parks, camp sites or beach somewhere. I was becoming ‘young’ again. But my friend Vander was not.
He did not enroll his agriculture subjects this semester and have not visited school for two years since the pandemic. He works instead in his wide farm in Long-long and worked on his garden and mounted in his horse and feeding cattle. He wakes up very early and waters his cabbages, he collected piles of paper modules and put it beside each vegetable plot to absorb to much water during afternoon rain. He takes note for the market prices at the trading post, calculate expenses from buying light bulbs, plastic covers, hose repairs, betel nuts, coffee grinds, and church offering.
School was a lost cause, he admitted. “Nakapuyak ti iskwela, ag-garden ak ladtan.” When others his age were occasioned dancing at the opening hours of town bars and strolling late at malls, Vander was grazing his water buffalo in his garden after a long day of farming. He axed pine woods, build fire, boil water for his warm bath and cut a native chicken for an early family dinner. He lives with his timid brother, a strict father and an 85-year-old grandma. ‘How was lola? She probably too weak to go to church especially with the virus,’ I asked him one time. We were sitting on a small bakery on top of a mountain overseeing the wide plates of La Trinidad swamp gardens. The afternoon sun reflects in its shallow water, from emerald, bright yellow, earthy brown and the blue sky like rectangle mirrors arranged at the floor of the valley. “Napigsa pay met ketdi, diyay lang ag-anus ka nga suruten ta agkarapasyar.” At her old age she is obviously declining. “Maybe it’s because of the pandemic, the old people are bidding goodbye to this polluted world,” I said.
Before the sunset, we went down to their house. I immediately look for lola and hugged her small body, it felt like a small delicate bird. She cannot remember my name but she gave me her wide smile. She went back grinding coffee beans at her yard and slowly lost in her world. The old people like lola may have lived to know that the pain of this world for the past two years was worth enough of their lifetime. Some have felt in their soul too much burden and have let go. The people living have no option but to seek for hope everyday and have faith to continue.
I sat near the bonfire, Vander made as the stars began to appear in the sky. He was boiling a meat broth for our dinner. He hinged the wooden bar of the barn and threw a handful of pellets to the wild scattered chickens. He turned on the radio to country gospel music and we eat at the glow of a dancing yellow fire. I observed everything he does, the way he eats, the way he chew his food quietly and side glanced to the sound of a cooing bird, the way he slowly push the wood into the fire. There was something calming in the way he moved, the way time were held into his arms. He lives his life like a ritual and my life in the city was the opposite. Every day, I checked on my emails, I scan photos and like some. I read through the news and exchange gossips with my friends. I go travels, attend classes and sit in the library. It was self-serving not roped to rituals and nature.
The evening was calm and starry, I sat at the back of his motorcycle and we ride across Long-long Road, passed by the Igorot Stone Kingdom, the creative Tam-awan, and passed by our local church. We started from two different locations for the past two years of pandemic but that evening, life was kind enough to allow our time to meet again in a kind of ritual I never thought I was looking for in my life. (RICHARD A. GIYE)