I was 13 years old, alone and on board MV Don Vicente bound to Bacolod. Standing on the open deck to the front of the ship, my one hand holding on to the metal railing and the other hand waving tirelessly to my mother and sister who were standing in the departure area of the Negros Navigation terminal in the port of Manila. Their faces I could barely see clearly not only because of the distance but also because tears started to wet my eyes.
Two months ago, my mother decided it was time to leave Bacolod and start a new life in Manila. The mere mention of Manila made us excited as it was a place of opportunities. People we knew who have been to the capital city had only great things to say. We heard their stories of successes, them earning large monies and the beautiful things you would not see in a small city like Bacolod.
It was my first time to ride a train above the road ( it was called Light Railway Transit ). Going up the stairs to the platform in Buendia Station made me giddy and looking out through the window of the carriage, it felt like flying as I could see from above and the cars below looked like they were toys. We zoomed past tall houses and buildings. I remembered the times when me, my sister and friends would sit on the very top spot of the grandstand in Paglaum Sports Complex overlooking the busy Libertad Street. We would count the cars passing by or point to the car we fancied and shout, “that’s mine!”
That summer of 1988 was also my first time to get inside the Malacanang Palace – the official residence of the President of the Philippines. A previous renter in our house whom we met took us for a tour inside and it opened my eyes to the world of luxury and comfort. I discovered what money, wealth and power could buy. We went to see the rooms occupied by the Marcos family. I saw the thousand shoes of Imelda, the expensive decors and the beautiful paintings. I was also ecstatic to see an actual battery powered toy car for the young Marcos boy because I could only dream of it driving and racing around the tracks back in Bacolod. I imagined myself sleeping on that four poster bed with antique wood columns and exquisite silk curtains hanging on the sides serving as kulambo or mosquito net.
We went to Manila Zoo also where I saw elephants, crocodiles and other exotic animals previously seen in pictures only. Manila indeed was a great city unlike the rural Bacolod.
The long blast of the ship’s horn brought me back from daydreaming and I took one last look at my mother and sister who were becoming smaller as the ship started to leave the port. I stayed on the deck looking at their direction until I could not see them any longer. Then holding my tears, I turned my back and walked towards the rows of double decker beds. I pulled the ticket from my pocket and searched for my bed. Amidst the noisy crowd, I put my small backpack on the bed and used it as my pillow. Dusk was approaching and the people’s voices had become a subtle noise of whispers. The wind became cooler as we were in the middle of the sea and flicker of lights could be seen from one side and the twilight hues of the sky on the other side. I closed my eyes hoping for sleep to find me and take me back to the port of Manila.