I remember the time I walked from my school to our house when I was in kindergarten. Our class was canceled for some reason, and I nonchalantly went out of the gate and did not wait for my tricycle service. Either the school guard was not doing his job or I was a good escapologist. I remember this vividly and I remember the feeling, the early memory of traveling alone, looking at the river below the bridge that connects our barangay to the poblacion. I felt good about myself doing a good job crossing the streets, looking to my left and to my right—until I got home and saw the surprised look of my auntie.
During my college years, I liked commuting alone after school. I had extra time to waste in college; high school in comparison was so much more demanding of my time. When my classes ended late, I would stay at the university, usually at the library to pass the rush hour, but it was another story when I could get out early. I would head straight to SM North or Trinoma mall. I would go to Booksale, or when I had the money, to Powerbooks or Fully Booked. Then, I would try the new restaurants or cafes. I would order coffee or bubble milk tea, open my book, but mostly watch the people.
I don’t remember what I was thinking then, probably it was something mundane as I was no philosopher. In rare times, I watched movies alone, though I never told Mom because she said it was dangerous to go to the cinema alone. There were times I did other things, like hang out with my college friends, but malling was the default route. I wasted my time this way.
In my early 20s, I cherished my alone time whenever I traveled. It was fun to be with people, but I also liked the feeling of walking alone and immersing myself in the environment around me. The feeling of anonymity, the low buzz of strangers talking, was comforting. When I went to Boracay with friends to join the Labor-acay parties on a May 1 weekend, I passed up the invitation to go on an ATV ride and watch the sunset. I chose to read “Eat, Pray, Love” at a frozen yogurt shop, where there were few people inside. My close friend understood this part about me, but she would later on say that the sunset at the ATV place was so beautiful, that I should have been there with them to watch it.
This same friend I would later on visit when she was working in Hong Kong. I liked going to Hong Kong. Aside from it having the best public transportation, I liked its general mood, so cosmopolitan and yet steeped in tradition. I liked looking at the neon signs with Chinese characters at night, the Victoria Harbour breeze on my face. I relished the time I’d wait for my friend to finish her work, usually just ambling around the city, observing people, hanging out at Eslite bookshop and at a café, scribbling in my journal about this life—variations on the thought that maybe there was more to this.
At work, when we had business trips, I would manage to sneak out some free time to explore whatever city we were in, then at night, I enjoyed staying in my hotel room: bathrobe, disposable slippers, fluffy pillows, the works.
Somehow my family understood this about me. When we were younger, my sister told me, don’t become an OFW. She said we should stick together here; even at a young age, she understood that I might leave. We were lucky that it wasn’t a necessity for us, that we had a choice. My parents would quip that my head is always out there, in the clouds, and never here, never present. My brother—well, he doesn’t say much, but he displays all the little souvenirs I bought for him on his shelf. Recently I asked my boyfriend, “Why leave a comfortable life?” because he is also planning to leave the country to carve his own path. And he just said, almost jokingly, the word “magis.” That desire to do greater things for the people. Sometimes I want to think it’s magis. Maybe it is magis, but I know it’s also the thirst to see more of what’s out there given this one precious life that is ours.
Traveling today is generally discouraged given the pandemic. But in less than a month, I will travel again, alone, to a foreign place. This time, I will stay longer. I don’t know for how long, but I look forward to the solitary walks, the commutes, the anonymity, until the blurred faces in the cafés sharpen and I once again see the familiar faces I love.
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Geli Juani, 29, is the recipient of the Fr. Bienvenido Nebres SJ Scholarship to earn her master’s degree in Global Human Development at Georgetown University, Washington DC, starting this fall semester. While there, she still plans to vote in the upcoming 2022 elections.
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