Last Night in Lisbon


On my last night in Europe, I look out from the roof terrace of the Barrio Alto Hotel in Lisboa, Portugal. In front of me are buildings more than a hundred year old sloping down to meet the coast of what was once the most important port in the world. The yellow glow of the lamps, which still hold their gas predecessor’s form, bounces across stone walls and floors of the narrow alleys. Sometimes shadows break the light, a man old enough to be hunched but strong enough to hike, the conjoined shadows of lovers returning from a date, or those of a family, walking side by side, that remind you of the paper-cut figures from preschool linked at the hands and feet. I wonder why they’re all still out. It’s late.

I look back at the sea, and I remember a conversation I had earlier with a man, full of experience and at least thrice my age, as we walked along the bay, he with his tie loose and his coat flung across his back, and I still in business mode. He said, “Many times, I have come to the sea to get my life back together.” I told him that was one of God’s gifts. He nodded towards a lady who smiled while passing us, “THAT is God’s gift! And you seem to be a gifted man. Stay away from them. They’re trouble.” I answered with a smirk. He then started to talk about his third wife, “We were beautiful once. We are no longer. I look at her in the morning, and I say, ‘Who is this fat cow with skin like marble???’ But I love her. I loved her then and I still do. Because she is the only woman I know who wakes up laughing. Can you imagine? A laughing cow with melting skin??? She is lucky to have a man like me! She seduced me, that temptress, she did!” I asked him how a cow sedduced him. He gave me a look that said, “Don’t be a wiseguy.” I decided to change the subject and asked if he regretted his other wives, he said, “I’ve had expensive losses, but I’ve also had expensive profits. I have no regrets.” Looking back it wasn’t the best subject to change to. Unlike him, I can’t say the same. I do have regrets.

The cold wind brings me back to the terrace, and somewhere I can hear singing, like the lady at the restaurant earlier that sang the saddest sounding amore’ I have ever heard in my life. That was the only word I understood, and that was enough. In a way, that describes very well what this trip has been for me. Come to think of it, it describes life very well. Despite not understanding, or misunderstanding, the little we do know is many times all we need.

In places where everything is foreign to you, and you’re foreign to everything, you learn to feel with your heart and you learn to comprehend with your soul. You find that the world is no longer just brown, black, or white, but also reds, and pinks, and ochre, with cerulean, and light. And in the complexities of what’s happening in today’s world, it’s nice to be able to step back and be reminded that somewhere the accordion still rocks, and the sea still speaks, that sons still dance with their gypsy mothers, and that people say I love you in a million different ways.

Brothers Bonifacio: The Problem with Breasts

When we were very young, Joshua, the youngest if three boys, who was probably not more than 8 years old at the time, asked my mom, “Mom, right, when you’re pregnant your breasts get bigger?” My mother, who was always very patient with us, explained, “Um… Yes, Josh. You see when a woman gets pregnant her breasts produce milk so that adds to the size. Why’d you ask?” Joshua answered, “Is Pamela Anderson always pregnant?”

Goodbye Cable TV.

Stations and Trains

Sometimes, no, many times, I like to escape into my own mind, into the magic of my imagination. Here I dream of stories, some of people around me, some of me, some of characters completely made up. Many things trigger it, nothing in particular, but many things can take me from the traffic of Manila to Pencey Prep. I try to write them sometimes. Most of the time they file themselves in my hippocampus. I think that’s where it is.

Here’s one inspired by all the trains I’ve been taking.
Stations and Trains
Amsterdam, Holland
I thought she was his daughter. She was just short. Really short. But when he leaned over to kiss her, she on her tiptoes, there was no mistaking they were lovers. I looked around me, and it seemed my eyes only saw the goodbyes. Fathers waving away, flying kisses from a wife, handshakes with partners, tight embraces, and the audible I love yous and thank yous, we’re all saying goodbye in our own way. Maybe because, in our own way, we’re all leaving. Leaving yesterday, leaving our youth, leaving people, leaving anything – leaving everything. We’re leaving pieces of ourselves behind, little pieces, until ultimately, we leave it all.Soon, just like me, after all the goodbyes, they will board trains to who knows where. They will sit in chairs, first class, second class, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not so much the seat that matters. It’s the train that counts. For those who’ve left someone behind, they will stare out the window, at the fields and trees, at the sky, and on night trains, the stars. In everything they will see the faces, the faces of those already missed. I look out the window, and see fields, trees, and sky.

The man sitting across the aisle is looking out on his side. The side of his forehead is leaning on the glass and his chin rests on his fingers. I wonder what he sees. I wonder who she is. I look out my window again. I see graffiti. It’s mostly either one of the following: someone’s angry, someone’s insecure, someone’s irresponsible, someone needs to shout something he can’t tell people, and also very common, another someone’s ill-fated attempt at romance. One of them keeps spraying “PUBIS”. I doubt he or she knows what it means. If I were him, I’d pick another name. Something not so nether regionish.

Through the cracks of the seats in front of me is an old couple. They’re sitting on chairs facing the other way. I know they’re old because they look old. White hair, wrinkles in the right places, and an aura of contentment only people with pure hearts have. Logically I’d say their best years have passed them. Seems someone forgot to tell them. They’re both pointing at things outside the window, pointing to things they want the other to see. Very sweet. I try to look behind me, to where they seem to be pointing. I don’t see anything, nothing other than fields, trees, and sky. Maybe they’re imagining things. Maybe their senile. Maybe I missed it. Maybe I’m blind.

I close my eyes, to begin what was my childhood’s favourite pastime. I close my eyes to dream. In my dream I’m in a train, first class, headed towards the sun. In my dream I look out the window, and I see it. In the light of the sun I see it. With my nose and finger tips greasing the glass, I stare. I do not even blink.