Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate for literature, once mentioned a trick one can employ when writing. “If a subject is so grave, so important,” he said, “you don’t put it in the middle of the plate but by the side. And you begin talking about other things, as if they are the important things.”
Last May 14, my mom was kidnapped. She was gone for 10 days.
I watched two movies during those 10 days. To this day it remains unclear why I felt like watching them since I had watched the two movies before.
The first movie was “Tropical Malady,” by the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
The first time I watched it, I thought it was one of the most romantic movies I had ever seen. It is divided into two distinct segments, but I thought the second part was a mere exposition, this time in symbols, of the first. The entire movie revolves around the themes of romance and desire, physical bodies and emotional connections, and metaphors and images of such concepts as love, lust and sexuality.
When I watched it again, it turned out to be a horror movie. I could barely watch its first few minutes showing men dressed like soldiers gathered around a corpse and having their pictures taken beside it. I failed to see romance in it. It had turned into a movie about solitude and fear, about being lost in a jungle with blood-sucking leeches and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Was my mom in a similar jungle? That was the dreadful question that sprang into my mind.
My sister and I were in Manila when we were told of our mom’s abduction. We flew to Cotabato the next day. I had always dreaded flying, but on that day I was the calmest person on the plane. Fear of flying suddenly seemed like the irrational fear it is.
I knew nothing was going to happen. The plane would touch down safely and taxi toward the terminal, where all of us passengers would disembark. Everybody else would go back to their normal lives, except for my sister and me. We would survive the flight and live to face the bleakest moment of our lives.
It rained hard that night. I felt guilty lying in bed with clean sheets. It caused me distress when I had to use my blanket because it was cold, knowing that my mom was in a dark and scary place, and the rain would not stop pouring.
Details hurt. Things become loaded with meanings, and they cause intense pain every time one has to confront them.
People, for example, talked about my mom’s shoes. Two men had dragged her away and had thrown her into a getaway vehicle, and one of her shoes had been left in the store. Someone found the other on the highway the getaway vehicle used.
But I could not be sure of such things. I tried my best not to listen when people talked about my mom, or when people wondered how she could survive without her shoes or her hypertension medicine, or when they described how the event looked on CCTV.
Tito, our stepdad, said we should all remain calm. We tried to comfort each other by asking if we had slept the previous night. We made coffee in the morning for us three, and reminded one another about taking our medicines—Tito his maintenance pills, my sister her cough tablets, and me my vitamins.
We did stay calm—at least in front of other people. When we wanted to cry we went to our rooms and locked the door.
The second movie I watched was Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film, “My Neighbor Totoro.”
As soon as it started, I began to cry and did not stop even after the movie ended. I had watched it several times before and it always made me cry. But this time I sensed a most profound connection to it, to its characters, and I felt like I actually was one of them.
Later I thought I must have been Mei, the youngest child, the one closest to emotional breakdown.
I lost several things during those 10 days, among them sleep, weight and faithlessness.
On the 10th day, at around six in the morning, Tito’s phone rang. He was told my mom had been released and brought to a hospital. We drove to the hospital, where we had a tearful reunion.
We did not remain calm. We cried in front of nurses and hospital staff and soldiers and members of the local media who were there, preparing for a press conference.
My mom was carrying fish when she was rescued. She had been brought to a marsh, and kept on a boat. Very early in the morning of her release, the fish just jumped into the boat, and one of my mom’s abductors caught it. He gave it to her, and told her it was a good luck sign.
Other people have different interpretations of the possible meanings of this event, of what that fish symbolizes. I myself don’t know what to make of it, but it reminds me of a story by David Foster Wallace about two fish that meet an older fish, which then asks them how the water is. The two swim away and later one of them asks the other what water is.
We all went home that same day.
The next day, my mom called me and asked me to take a picture of her. Then she told me I should have taken her picture while she was still at the hospital, because she still had not eaten well then, and she was thinner, and one could still see her cheekbones.
We had a good laugh.
I guess that is water.
Jake Soriano, 24, works as a researcher at GMA News.
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