Wednesday, April 18, 2007
10:26 AM |
The Bamboo Child
An excerpt from a longer work.
Her first memory is of being told, by a spinster aunt who had become a surrogate caregiver, that she never had a mother: that she and her sister had come from the liki sa kawayan
—the cracks of a bamboo—like the legend of our collective origins. Her Mama Mediong must have meant it as a joke, or as a quick tale to shoo away a much-too inquisitive niece, the child of her dead sister Genoveva. Except that my mother took it seriously, her childhood naïveté pulsing through the fabrication, enough to believe that she was, indeed, a bamboo child. Such must have been her need to know where she had come from, and to reason why she was different from her playmates who had family they called by parental affection. She had no chances, even for somebody that young, to listen to and get to know the oft-told tales and legends. “We were a poor family,” Mother would recall, “much too superstitious, and everybody too busy trying to make sure there was food on the table when every meal time came around. We had no time for stories.” Nor time, it would seem, for the vagaries of childhood.
Mother cannot recall how old she was exactly when she was told this particular story of bamboo origins, only that it was the middle of the Second World War, and everything was in a protracted state of chaos, fear, and utter boredom. It was around that time when the family—which consisted of their maternal grandparents, Lola Valentina (or Intin) and Lolo Benito, and their aunts and uncles—felt it was necessary to evacuate their old house in the middle of the poblacion
of what was then New Tolong town (now Bayawan City) somewhere down south of Negros Oriental. The guerillas had just killed Yoshi, the Japanese resident of the town who had acted as go-between for the invading Japanese army, and the town folk were quite sure the Japanese would come back to retaliate, and even resort to annihilating the entire town for the assassination. Lolo Benito decided the family must pack up and go. It was nighttime when they made the move, and the air was thick with much suspense and fear, but Mother remembered taking care to observe the many thickets of bamboo she came across, examining each hollowed out sprout closely as they passed and while everybody else crouched in the dark hoping no Japanese soldier could see them as they made their way to what they had supposed to be the safety of a faraway place.
Years later, she would realize they had barely gone a few kilometers from where they started in the poblacion. “We never really evacuated Bayawan,” she said, laughing. “We merely moved a few trees away, to Punong, which was beside the sea, and thought the nearby woods were the jungles of the distant mountains.”
Years later, she would also remember the bamboo story and felt the old yearning coming back: that of a child who had known no mother, or father. My mother is already 74-years-old, but when she tells me these stories from her childhood, when she has to dive into the well of what she always thought to be forgotten memories, she becomes that child again, looking at the bamboo, trying to ascertain her own origins, and trying to find her own place in the confusing world.
Labels: family, life, memories
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