To and fro
The bus speeds on the South Luzon Expressway, and it’s enough to startle me. In my memories, an attempt to ride southward at 9 a.m. leads to a 4-hour trip that could have taken 30 minutes, much cussing and yelling at fellow motorists, and abusing the in-ride movie. Definitely not so much “sped” as “crawled.” The SLEx of my childhood melts away in my mind as I try to update it with the expanded expressway we now course through, with its broad lanes and its perfect asphalt.
I crouch in my seat, nursing a bad stomach and mapping out our itinerary for the next three days. This is a business trip to Laguna. A laugh rises among the acids in my belly. A business trip to your hometown is a laughable idea.
Of course I am being sarcastic: It was my third trip to Manila last summer and I had barely caught up on the sleep I missed from the last. And while it will be a relief to finally get to the University of the Philippines Los Baños, we are not sure what to do or where to go when we get there.
From the highway, I point out the gas station where the best KFC joint can be found, my family’s favorite and often visited resort, which developed my love for swimming, the huge wet market, our subdivision, the very street we lived in. Is it not very cruel that all these memories line the highway while I roll away from them? But the usual heavy sentiment that drowns me whenever I see my childhood home has been outgrown. I am 19, and it’s been six years; in fact, I am on a business trip, and not for a petty visit.
I wonder at my own indifference.
But then we enter Calamba and I brush away the thoughts as I focus on the task at hand: how to not get lost, here in my own hometown. More acid laughter.
Los Baños is not at all like Biñan, where I grew up, but for weekend getaways we frequented the hot springs, Makiling, the university, and gorged on espasol. I become immersed in the UPLB campus, with the vast wood that mingles with the sophisticated academe, and the “business” we came for, with its all-UP sensibilities. This university, as a system, has a world of its own.
I associate UPLB with our campus back in Davao, because ours is modeled after it, and wonder how much longer it would take for our campus to become something like this. And then I wonder further, at how I might have come to study here, if we did not move away…
Too soon the trip has ended. Most of our Manila contemporaries left the night before, and we are to follow shortly. Before leaving Los Baños I meet up with an old friend, one of my classmates before we moved suddenly to Davao. There was hardly any effort to catch up; good and true friends can stay the same despite any estrangement.
We meet up, buy pasalubong, have a late lunch at SM, and then go our separate ways at the bus stop.
It is this meeting that leads to a bus trip that includes a chilly window seat, some tears, and then a hesitant but final conclusion.
I am now removed from this place that I once called home, and I have accepted it. Davao has become a part of me as much as the Laguna and Manila of my childhood, and I have considered letting my hometown go as part of maturity, as part of life, rather like dying grandparents and getting one’s first paycheck.
But my meeting with my old friend brings back memories—how we roamed the streets of our village on a Saturday afternoon; how we huddled together, stuck in school, because the typhoon advisory came too late; how we all used to bicker in class but now stay in touch as much as grown-up siblings do.
As the subdivision again comes into view from the northbound bus, my breath catches in my throat and my eyes well. I am back to where I was four years ago, on my first return to Luzon after a 2-year stay in Davao, sentimental and clinging. I hated myself then. There is no strength in this side of me, only mushy feelings and happy memories.
On the stretch from the Biñan-Carmona exit to Magallanes, I finally concede that I am both the sniveling kid missing home and the 19-year-old who can wander. While one is strong and forceful, the other is happy and warm, and they subsist on each other.
As we wait in the transit lounge, an idea descends on me like a blessing: that when the plane departs from the Manila airport for the Francisco Bangoy International Airport, it means neither coming home nor leaving home. It is simply going to a home away from home.
Kit Iris Frias, 19, is a senior communication arts student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.
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