Bittersweet Sojourn

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AlvaradoI go home sporadically, that is, in short bursts of days punctuated in between by months of absence. Home meaning my abandoned haunt—actually my parents’ house—in that old hometown so many of us have tucked away in our past.

Although I make my home in Cebu, I go home to my folks in Negros for a variety of reasons. When I was single and living away from them, going home meant re-charging and giving up being responsible for myself for a couple of days. It meant home-cooked meals and not having to contend with laundry, or locking the front door before going to sleep.

These days though, I am no longer a child to my parents, my birthright in the general scheme of things having been relinquished to my son, J. First grand kid, and the only boy in a girl-dominated little clan, he hogs the spotlight.

Five months now into my pregnancy, traveling remains a pleasurable lull for me, even though I tire easily. The three-hour ferry trip to another island is a pelvic pain, but J was very well behaved, and slept through half of the trip. We disembarked in Dumaguete, the sleepy city that seems trapped in a gone time. It never ceases to amaze me how clean the waters are in this port; even close to shore you don’t see floating trash or oil slicks. Or maybe it was just a particularly beautiful day to me. We were met by my folks, who instantly grin and confiscate my son from me. They miss him a lot, and ply him with hugs and kisses, to his utter distraction.

After a quick lunch at the nearby hotel, we drive off for another 3 hours, speeding up and down the winding road that cuts circles across mountainous terrain. This is the landlocked way to get from Oriental to Occidental Negros. On one side you see cliffs breaking off into the sea, on the other, shadowed valleys cradling coconut or sugarcane fields. Peering closely at the rows of canes, it saddens me to see how puny they look, how thin the leaves, how dry the earth. Sugar is a sunset industry, or so the newspapers have been saying for years now. Driving down from Negros Oriental to Occidental, the signs of demise are visible. When I was a kid, along the roads sugar cane fields were all that you see—a verdant, undulating carpet stretching out as far as the horizon. Now, patches of cane field are dotted by blocks of real estate, mango plantations, markets, mini malls, and seasonal crops. Sugar farming has shrunk in size, and the island has long ago turned to other ventures.

Many of my friends, especially those who did not grow up running among these canes, say this dying is inevitable, a feudal system could not possibly last out the advent of more profitable crops, easier harvests, more commercial businesses. My living in Cebu should uphold this point. There is nothing for me anymore in Negros, no job that can support a household soon to welcome another addition. Maybe so. But as we drive farther inland, I can’t help but be drawn back in time, remembering kinder days when sunlight did not seem to burn, when the earth was moist and loamy, and rooted deeply, soaring high, the sugar cane stalks were purplish-red, bursting with the sweetest juice.

* Painting by Nunelucio Alvarado, Kansiaha Series 2004

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