Project Pearls: Giving children the gift of learning

Myself, together with Sofia (left) and Shiela (middle), scholars of Project Pearls.
FOR SOME REASON, I think smiles are most beautiful when they show even in the face of life’s difficulties… 

These kids with me are Sofia and Shiela. They are both scholars that “Project Pearls” sends to school with the help of sponsors, organizers, and volunteers. Both are sixth graders. Both are 12 years old. Both dream of becoming “teachers” one day. And during a Sunday English class with me, with their dresses worn out and their tresses seemed unwashed, both claimed that Math is their favorite subject. But they don’t know each other. They go to different schools. One lives in the far west, the other in the far east. They are from two opposite sides of a district, which is not as progressive as the places where most of us—perhaps the more privileged ones—are living. Sofia is the fourth and only girl among the five children of a father who trades junk and a mother who does laundry for others. When I asked what her older brothers do for a living, she said that the first-born as well as the third are incapable of working, impaired by their psychological condition. While the second has been seeking employment, his odds haven’t been dependable of late. He hasn’t found a job yet. Shiela, on the other hand, is the daughter of a construction worker to a plain housewife. She’s the oldest among four children. Two boys, two girls. Shiela. A girl. 12. A breadwinner. That’s what she was. Is. And perhaps, will be.

Some advice are better taken when shared

TONIGHT I HAVE REALIZED that there's joy in trying to hep others get through pain--even if you yourself are breaking inside, dying almost. Maybe it's true. Some advice are better taken when shared with others in need of it, like yourself. Like myself.

Reconstructing my deformed meaning of home

WHEN I WAKE UP, my mother is screaming. The choral sound of plastic objects hitting concrete fills the house. My nephew Coy-Coy must have climbed in somewhere, now sending things flying here and there. Of course he did. It’s daytime. People are supposed to do a routine.

It’s been years since I’ve felt that the meaning of home for me has been deforming in slow-mo. My mother screeching again. My sister screeching in return. My nephew screeching to follow the trend. You might as well throw in our father’s normal speaking voice before, which was louder and more powerful than a scream. My father who used to be the balancing force that put everything to quiet. Except now. He’s locked inside his coffin. Sleeping forever in the past two years. I still find myself screaming at night because in my nightmare his ghost was haunting me. Or smiling because in my dream he was talking to me in a meadow, asking how’s my career. Oh, my father who I thought died never reading the stuff I’ve published on newspapers or in technical journals. Whom I loathed because I assumed he wanted me to become an engineer like him, or a medical professional, and yet he was not that civil engineer who found a fortune for us. The father who resigned from his jobs because he wanted to be his own boss and ventured into an ambitious business that was bankrupt, leaving our family savings depleted. When he passed away on the bitterest April morning eleven days after my twenty-fourth birthday, I realized I was wrong for hating him. During his burial, I saw my aunt who recognized me. She said I was the boy whose achievements my father had often talked about when they were in Tagaytay recently then, building a family vacation house. She said I was the boy whom my father had always been very proud of. Things I was fully unaware of… Well I thought I’d gotten used to this. The noise in our house, I mean. But every time I get a one week off, because I wouldn’t go home to my hometown for a tryst in the city, it’d feel like a whole new environment again when I return. Maybe it’s not a matter of getting used to something, like the noise. Maybe it’s a matter of living with the dramas of your life until the end.

Bread and buildings

That bread I prevent myself from eating to spare me a breakfast for tomorrow.
IT'S ABOUT TIME FOR lunch, but I haven't eaten yet. Thirty-one minutes past twelve and my colleagues are still in a meeting, my stomach growling. I reach for a slice of good bread but find only three left, so I change my mind. I seal the pack safely. Put it carefully in my pedestal. I must reserve these three for tomorrow, I realize. Because I’d normally gorge myself on three slices of bread loaf for breakfast. And bread like this, filled with raisins and made of fine grain, is not for ordinary occasions. In my case. Not the ones I’ll just eat anytime I feel like it. Because it's worth 69 bucks. You can get a cheaper pack, even bigger, for one-third that price. Only it’ll be the rough bread from an ordinary bakery. That one I usually buy to save money. So this fine bread is a rarity for me. A rarity. If only I didn’t decide on investing in a plush condo unit. In Makati Central Business District.

I could have chosen a condo deal a tad better than the one I signed up for. If my goal is only to own a property in the Metro. A deal that despite the monthly amortization rates will have me more money to spare. Which I can use to shop for some plush stuff. Or to save for something bigger and promising. Like a small business. To invest for my future. The smarter way maybe. A deal that won’t require me to pay more than a hundred thousand at once before the property’s turnover. Depleting any possible savings.

Why I shouldn't have attended the open house

A simple token I got from my condo developer.
AS I SAT AT the dining table, I banged my hips against the chair. Which was almost paper-light that it fell like a twig to the ground. Maybe if not because of a nearby chair that had caught the fall, the impact might have stolen the other guests’ attention. Wrong move for me. I almost lost my composure. If I ever had.

The waiter served me with a dining plate, dotted with shades of greens and browns. A chicken fillet with brown sauce, the moisture of which had leached into the cold air. Fish fillet covered with green stuff I knew nothing about but reminded me algae. And veggies. A mix of corn and carrot and gumbo. Plus a meager amount of rice evenly strewn across the plate. Meager not because of cost-cutting but because servers think no one wants that much rice in this era where a bulging stomach is undesired. Maybe this is the food and lifestyle for the rich, I thought. Or maybe for the middle-class homeowners, of which sooner or later I will be a part. I paused a moment, just so my behavior wouldn’t betray me, so I wouldn’t appear too excited about the free dinner. Even if that was actually the reason why I’m here, since the agent from whom I bought my condo unit, Ana, advised me to go to this occasion. To make up for the lunch treat she couldn’t afford for her clients yet. For my officemate Agnes and me. She’d been telling it was fine even if I bring no guests, prospect buyers on their part, because I am their client. Already a homebuyer paying my monthly down payment. I’m still not fully convinced though. That it was really fine. And that I’m already a homebuyer.

A sunny day with freebies and good memories

View of Makati City from the LKG Tower.
THE DAY WAS GLORIOUS, with a blue sky and warm sunlight. With good news, too.

I’d be getting a couple of free movie tickets, on the 19th of November, as reward for this continuous-improvement-initiative kind of thing I’d started in the process I’m responsible for. In my company, this is. The words “a couple of cinema tickets” came bouncing inside my skull after reading the message, so I assumed that would be at least two. And two tickets are worth more than four hundred bucks. Which could fill in the growling stomach of a bachelor, feeding no one but himself, for two days. Like me. Say with that amount I could do with fine bread and coffee for breakfast. Pork rib barbecue for lunch, even with a bowl of hot soup and cup of fresh vegetables. And special ham or chicken stew with an ample amount of rice for dinner. But instead of taking all the blessing for myself, I realized I should share it with my friend Marge, who as far as I remember shared some blessing with me, too, few months ago. Only I couldn’t remember what that exactly was.

The tiger’s cage and a treasure box

WHEN I GO OUT, the blue cage is bare. Girbaud must have bolted out of it. And maybe he is now running in the backyard, creeping across the lawn, or pouncing with some other cats somewhere in our house? Of course, he isn’t. It can’t be like that today anymore. It can never be. This is the day we buried his remains.

I gait toward the cage to make some final cleaning. This was Girbaud’s cage. Was, because after all that’s one thing death can change permanently: the shifting of verb tenses from present to past. I pass by our terrace, and just nearby the terrace door sits, motionlessly, the litter box Girbaud had used whenever he had to excrete his solid and liquid wastes alike. The gray mixture of gravel and sand, which Girbaud couldn’t do without whenever he needed to answer to nature’s call. He’d been trained really well in doing this. There were times he would cry aloud just so I would give back this translucent, plastic box inside his cage for him to pee. Or poop.   In the hallway―which serves as my mother’s miniscule garden where she grows her gumbo and eggplants and birds of paradise and orchids and other species of plants unknown to me―assemble in parallel the yellow and blue feeding bowls I bought for Girbaud when he was still young. This pair was maybe his fourth or fifth, because the ones we initially handed him were real human bowls. Which were too big for his taste. And for the size of his cage. The blue bowl is empty, dry as bone; the yellow one is half-filled with water. This might have been the last water he drank before he had succumbed to death. If he ever had the chance to drink.


LAST NIGHT, A CLOSE friend of mine did want to die. So did I.

She told me her betraying story. Same one I’d been hearing all those days she’d been immersed in despair. That she strolled someplace in this city and then, somewhere on the streets, in her sight registered a familiar face. A man clinging to someone else, a girl. The man she’d seen just some time ago, during which made her think she’d been over it. That the feeling was over, that she was fine. Only, seeing him with someone else this time made her realize the contrary. In my head I could hear something else as she talked. I knew there had to be another source of her panic attack this time. And she knew it too. She wanted to buy a property, a place of her own. A home. But the circumstances did not allow her. She’d planned to get a house three or four weeks ago, I guess. Or maybe she’d been planning all along. All her life maybe? Something out of my knowledge to grasp.

Prank callers or prank hotlines?

I WRINKLED MY NOSE in disgust the moment I inhaled the wisp of air polluted by gas leaking from a tank. The bottom part of which had a crack. Mild friction caused some sparking around that part. That could spread to a wildfire. The slightest movement could cause the tank to explode, explained my brother-in-law. Like the clanking of two Coke glass bottles.

The sun and the clouds

THE SUN PEEKS THROUGH the sky curtain of gray fluffy cotton as the clouds persist to repress it. Impossible. It’s a view of a struggle I see each morning. In my seat. Through the window. At my new office. And today is my second Monday here.

They say I suffered from a so-called separation anxiety during my first week of being disconnected from my previous company. Specifically on my first two days. On my second day, I almost got myself into trouble, thanks to my impulsive stupidity or stupid impulsiveness. Whichever is right and more appropriate. Feeling empty and guilty of some nature, as though I have left a mission, an unfulfilled purpose. And an agreement left unspoken. Maybe I should earnestly thank God for the odds have always been in my favor. I was saved from the penalty that my think-about-others-before-yourself-first attitude could have caused me. I’m okay now. I’m right where I want to be. At least that’s what I feel. On my second week. And in the years to come. I’m right where I want to be.

World War C

Girbaud, my half-Persian half-something kitten-turned-cat.

I FREED GIRBAUD OUT of his cage today. He’s my sweet-looking little cat who used to be a kitten until this June, his first adoption month anniversary, which for me is his birth month. I have always looked forward to freeing him because he’s a cat. He should be free to stroll and sprint and play. And mate. To my delight, the moment I freed him, he was so calm and quiet. Simply lurching around in our backyard, sometimes moving to our terrace, taking naps, and that was it. Gone are the days when he would dash from one place to another, which made me anxious that he’d try to escape and find his mother cat and his siblings and then, instead, end up finding another home.

Moments later he crept across the lawn, chasing after a white cat. I am certain that it was not about mating because that white cat, as far as I know, is male. And Girbaud, I believe, is not gay. There’s no homosexuality in the cat kingdom, I suppose, unless I am mistaken. Then they pounced, stumbled, scared themselves, and flashed lightning-quick into another yard. In the neighborhood―which happened to be a den of dogs.

You’re under arrest for...

I’d prefer paragraphs and sentences over lines and verses and stanzas…

Nonetheless, this is my first silly poem about—love? Or obsession? I call it,

“Fourteenth of February.”

Starry eyed and awed as you turned to me.
Like an angel who descended from the heavens.