*photography By Jean Claire A. Dy 2006
I never learned to scale love to size.
During a thunderstorm in Dumaguete, I found myself in one of those cramp, dingy street-side coffee shops, sipping rice coffee and wallowing in my loneliness. I saw this old woman with bedraggled hair, wearing a patchwork of a dress. She was surrounded with several large plastic bags. While drinking her coffee, she was sieving into her bags, pulling out one item from another: miniature plastic containers, albums, folded pieces of paper, tiny amulets, and other artifacts people would often consider as trash. She studied each piece she took from her bags like a scientist looking at her experiments.
I stared at her in wonder, a part of me wanting to ask her what the bags were for. As though she knew what I was thinking, she turned around to face me and smiled, revealing nicotine-stained teeth. The old woman gazed at me; her eyes roamed around my faced as if searching for something. She then muttered: “remembrance ni day.” On the table beside her mug lay a picture of a handsome Japanese. It was a little crumpled and frayed at the edges.
Memories would crowd my heart.
The day before I left Dumaguete, I found myself trudging towards that same coffee shop, hoping that I might perchance see her. I didn’t see that old woman again. I would often hear other people descrive her as the weird-looking woman who carried plastic bags with her around. Some say she was perhaps an aswang or an inmate who had escaped from the mental institution. But I ended up standing in front of a desolate structure; a sign tacked on the front door read: closed.
That night, I packed and unpacked my bags several times. Each time felt like the things I chose to bring were never enough. It was difficult to choose which to bring and which to leave behind. I was burdened by a strong sense of responsibility to fit every piece of memory in my luggage. Scaling these countless remembrances to size was like scooping grains of sand. Like sand, the memories slowly slipped through my fingers.
I found myself standing small with love looming immensely around me. I was like the miniscule figure of a man in a Chinese painting standing amidst the vastness of his natural landscape. Against this backdrop, I was transformed into a wide-eyed little girl looking at the world in wonder, wishing that I could cup the world in my palm and let it stay there in calm resoluteness.
In my mind, I saw the image of the old woman lugging plastic bags full of memories with her. And I realized what it was to keep things close to heart. In the end, the bags would be too heavy to carry around. The time would come when the old woman would have to deal with the painful reality of having to discard some pieces—even the ones she had held closer to heart.
The next day, I left Dumaguete with one valise. And a heart swelling with memories.
*published in SunStar Weekend Magazine, September 8, 2002