ALONG the Katipunan Avenue of my youth was a small eatery called Pampanguena. It was run, we can suppose, by the eponymous (and possibly fictional) Pampanguena. We had lunches of grilled pork belly there. It had a jukebox that played songs I didn’t know. It is gone now, taken over by a tire repair shop.
Down the road was Mango Brutus, where I bought mango shakes to go with snacks from stalls selling 3-M Pizza, Joe Kuan dimsum, and hotdogs from the original Smokey’s outside some small grocery store whose name I have since forgotten. Across Aurora Boulevard, a crippled Armored Personnel Carrier from one of the failed coups stood impotent watch.
None of them exist now. The grocery has long since been demolished, and nothing has been quite able to take root there. There are still some small food stalls there, but of the generic kind that sell squidballs and tapsilog that you can find pretty much anywhere.
It is the loss of small holes in the wall like Pampanguena that I mourn when I think about how this road that I have been walking on since the 1980s has changed since then. Not the heavier traffic, and not the generations of students who come to Katipunan each year to claim it as their own. Increasingly, it is becoming more their street than mine. Or, more precisely, it is nobody’s street now, being indistinguishable from any other major road in this blighted metropolis.
There is also not much life. Citizens live in a police state, have a life expectancy of 50 years, and hardly ever leave home. There is no point because anywhere in Magnasanti is like everywhere else for maximum efficiency. It took Ocasla three years of math and sketches to create his virtual city and beat an unbeatable game.
In contrast, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) has given the country six years to do something just as daunting: keep Metro Manila from collapsing on itself.
AS A PLACE, it didn’t even deserve a name. Not a formal one anyway, but given how Jesuits like to give names to everything, it was called Murphy’s Walk.
It was really nothing more than concrete steps that led down to a small recessed area that was part dumping ground for abandoned desks and other classroom equipment, and part overgrown forest. A very short and slippery walk lined with various undetermined plants that nobody had bothered to trim regularly.
A FRIEND was recently invited to go on a moonlight ride up to Tagaytay on the back of a motorcycle. She refused, saying it was late and that it wouldn’t be safe, etcetera, etcetera. When she told me about it, I pretty much exploded and scolded her more vehemently than I meant to.
It was an instinctive thing, and something that I really ought to apologize for. It wasn’t her fault, after all. She didn’t know that for a biker who rides for the freedom and inherent danger it entails, and not to pick up chicks, giving someone a ride is like lending a jacket, or holding hands, or telling a secret. It’s a very personal thing, and not offered lightly.
There is something surreal about sitting at a faux-French cafe in the middle of a sweltering urban mess and hearing the lamentations of a slave set to bossa nova.
“Old pirates, yes, they rob I/Sold I to the merchant ships/Minutes after they took I/From the bottomless pit,” she sings almost lazily, as if being ripped from your homeland just means it’s one of those days.
Don’t worry about it, though. Just keep nursing that cafe au lait and we’ll get back to familiar territory eventually. “Waters of March” or something else nice and friendly.
In the meantime, won’t you help me sing this song of freedom? Just, you know, just to get it over with.
“Bakas sa mukha mo na kailangan mo ng kasama at karamay sa buhay,” says Palanca-awarded poet and professor Paolo Manalo, dashing my ill-conceived post-break up plan of moving to the woods to become a loner lumberjack.
And really, that, and that I can comfort myself knowing she has a good life ahead of her despite–or because of–my absence is all I can say about that without this turning into a pity party.