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Urban lights

I wait like forever. Davao streets are usually filled with jeepneys marked by yellow headlights against the fume cloud and the darkness of a young night. The traffic light blinks yellow and I still wait. Like forever, as I have said. I wait for the whole world to stop so that I can cross to the Other Side. I stand on the sidewalk with a mocking expression on my face, mocking no one but myself. For I know there are more than streets to cross. And I wait forever to do so.

This Side is my safe zone. I remember youth, first love, and everything sweet and mushy in it. I remember someone from This Side. I can still picture him going to school, playing Dota in the Internet cafés that mushroomed along Roxas Boulevard, or drinking himself close to death. I imagine him finally graduating after eight years, tossing his toga cap in the air outside the Ateneo gates and celebrating as though a final fantasy had come true. Everything in This Side makes me feel romantic until I can no longer tell the difference between him and the street itself. It’s as if his soul has merged with the concrete.

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When it’s warm in Davao, the skies are all-star cast with twinkles of blue and white and it gets a little lonely wandering the streets alone. I don’t do alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t have any vice to keep me company, so I kind of wish for someone to talk to—the kind who knows that Spongebob Squarepants lives inside a pineapple under the sea.

But then, there are only traffic lights. If I don’t get comfort from them, I don’t know where else to look for it. So I watch traffic lights like forever until yellow changes to red, cars stop and busy people appear as silhouettes in a motion blur. I want to lose myself out there, too, in the middle of the blur. But I don’t dare. It will seem tragically beautiful to be caught in between the moving and the keeping still. But I don’t lose myself. I never will. All I want is to cross to the Other Side. And I wait forever to do so.

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The Other Side is territory uncharted. I smell fear, failure and everything uncertain from it. I can see someone on the Other Side. I see him walking slowly with both hands in his pockets, breathing lightly as if the whole world waits on him, and taking things as they are. I can imagine him raising a fist to the sky, swearing and laughing at the same time, as if, five years after graduation, he is finally ready to play all his cards. And if he’s lucky, he’s lucky. Everything from the Other Side encourages me to be brave. It is a future to look forward to when I can only think of him in the blinking urban lights as if he shares a certain brightness with them.

I cross the street half running, trying to beat the green light. After three seconds, the traffic starts to move and cars speed up like tomorrow never comes. I can only trace their tail lights getting smaller and fainter with distance. Ahead are a cluster of calachuchi trees trying to green the city triangle, pale yellow lantern lights all over them. I still prefer firebugs and their light butts, but globalization has chased them away. This isn’t a world for the small. Not anymore. From the ground looking up at the city’s tallest building, I don’t want to feel small and oppressed by everything concrete and associated memories.

I don’t like crying anymore. I don’t feel like going back either. Somehow, it feels good to be swallowed up by deep urban lights, to watch yourself through a passerby’s eyes without really seeing much but the lights reflecting, moving, and fading in a kind of dance.

Davao is not my hometown but it’s warm and beautiful here. It might be less lonely in a pineapple under the sea. But I choose to stay here, breathe here. People talk of moving on without really intending to. But I will be different. I still have many streets to cross and urban lights to watch before I can be home. But at least I have crossed out one on my list.

Marcela D. Doropan, 27, works in a nongovernment organization based in Mindanao. She says she pays her housing loan every month and will do so for the next 25 years.

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