Coming Home by Orly J. Cajegas

Orly currently contributes articles for Cebu Daily News. We shared many memories when we used to work together in another paper in Cebu while I was still based there. He had written Coming Home on his FB notes. I enjoyed it and with his permission, I am posting it here on my blog. 

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It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.

Setting foot in the place that I grew up in without warning (it was totally unplanned, a spur of the moment, almost on a whim) wasn’t like how I imagined it to be all these years. Not that it involved some kind of a difficulty, but it took me twenty years to bring myself back in Barangay Ermita.

My buddy (Onin, the dream catcher) and I decided to walk by foot perhaps unconsciously knowing that I was to literally trace the footsteps back to my playground and home where dreams are built. At first, it was hardly the place it used to be:gone are the shanties and in their stead are buildings jutting out from the road. There was already a flashy signage that announces “Barangay Ermita” at the very entrance. But after a minute of struggling not to backtrack,  the stench of horse dung (from the tartanilla) wafting in the air and the sight of trisikad (padyak) is an all-too-familiar affair – I was home.

Orly's old house: it's entirely a different house altogether now.
Orly’s old house: it’s entirely a different house altogether now.

Slowly we trudged on the paved road that led us to enter another place in time, like in a distant dream. But only that I was no longer dreaming: I was inside the whole movie in my mind. I saw our old house – now a concrete three-storey structure with tiles plastered on its walls—and a sudden pain pierced through me.The idea was to come incognito (I’ve been gone far too long no one would bother recognize this chubby semi-blonde character) but I heard a certain kind of hush from the crowd, especially the elderly, mentioning my name. I mustered all courage not to budge because I fancied coming back here at some futuristic time when I’d be giving out money left and right (I’d be a millionaire having won the lotto or something although there were several occasions in the past when politicians would call me to campaign for them here and give out crappy flyers with their names on it but no thanks), nostalgia, however, overtook me. I waved back,smiled, and continued walking to where the shores of my childhood was – but it was never there. Instead, what I saw that sliced open my heart, is a seawall beckoning to the SRP’s gigantic suspension bridge. It broke my heart that I have never ever remembered witnessing a single scavenger before earnestly looking for treasure at the rubbish carried by the Guadalupe river that empties onto the sea.

Scavengers beachcombing.
Scavengers beachcombing.
Orly2
The seashore is replaced by this overpass of the SRP.

By then, I was too overcome with emotions (but also too coward to admit it) that I snapped at my buddy Onin and only then did I realize he was wearing a shirt that read: “Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor”.  I was about to tear it apart but I realized his mom, Maging, works there. And then the big picture hit it, like a cannonball.The houses have improved (you can see several air-condition units hovering),the whole baybayon is now protected by the wrath of typhoons, and although the menace that is drug abuse and its ugly twin, becoming a drug den, has continuously challenge the way of living in this squalid place, most of the people still resisted the temptation to give in.They are one of the most resilient people I know by heart, and they remain so.

Orly meets Bajing, his childhood friend turned cop.
Orly meets Bajing, his childhood friend turned cop.

On our way out, I saw a mural artist busy painting the wall all by himself.  It was a tall order to singlehandedly cover the long stretch of concrete with a piece of art in progress. I couldn’t contain myself from asking him if he were from there, or a volunteer from somewhere else. He chuckled saying, “Kuya ka ka ron, wan a ka kaila nako? Si Roden bitaw ni?”. My jaw dropped to my feet because I suddenly remember this kid who’d stalk me wherever I go and pester me for trivia answers: he has become an artist. This time, I was crushed. But before a sea of tears swelling from my eyes could fall, a motorcycle suddenly zoomed in, like it was about to run over me deliberately but halted in front of my face. It was my childhood friend Bajing  a policeman. The whole universe was telling me that not everyone turned out screwed up crooked and caught up by all the drugging and poverty going, that there is still hope, that there is still this part of the world which believes in dreams coming true, that change is about to come – in a whimper.

Meet Roden, the artist.
Meet Roden, the artist.

 

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