Creative Nonfiction

[travelogue] Coming Out of My Cage (And It Feels Just Fine)

A/N: Submitted this as an entry to World Nomads’ travel scholarship competition. I didn’t win, but it felt like a piece of travel writing worth sharing.


It’s June.  The night is humid, glowing amber in the lights of Armenian Street.  I’m twenty-three, and girls much younger than me have done this before—wandered off at night in search of adventure—but I’d always been the “tame” one.  At home, they call me tita (aunty), lola (grandma). The girl whose idea of partying is having tea in bed after work.

Certainly not the girl who’d be rounding the corner of a graffiti-covered alley at half-ten at night, the remnants of a sangria buzzing in her blood.  But it was my last day in Singapore, and I’d found myself wanting to live a little.

Emphasis on a little.  There would be no shared drinks with strangers.  Instead, I was looking for new music, and Timbre at The Substation was supposedly the best place to find it.

Back home in Manila, I balanced a responsible, serious job as an agency strat planner with a self-proclaimed “career”—profitability be hanged—as a singer/songwriter for a rock band.  When my bandmates heard I was traveling to Singapore, they’d filled my head with stories of underground gigs with inspiring acts.  It was this promise that got me to wander a foreign city at the oddest hours of night.  I’d tried to find it in Clarke Quay, but the bands there sounded professional when I was looking for raw.  A quick Google search for “indie music gigs Singapore” pointed me in the direction of Timbre.  


Several attempts at a cab ride later, I’m elbowing my way into the dark, open-air club, dodging a bunch of finance-looking bros nursing beers.  I grab a stool near the bar and, just as I catch my balance, there’s that familiar screech of an electric guitar being sound-checked.  Then, the mics crackle to life as a raspy mezzo-soprano (just like me) launches into the familiar first line of The Killers’ hit, Mr. Brightside.

Soon, it’s midnight. Though the sangria’s worn off, I might as well be drunk. I’m dancing in my seat, shout-singing along with those finance bros through a series of pop-rock hits. Later, I’ll notice my phone battery is dead.  Later, I’ll catch my first ever bus.  Later, I’ll huddle, scared, at a deserted taxi stand in a different part of town (How did I get here?!) until an off-duty cab takes pity on me and brings me back to my hotel.  

Later, I’ll wonder what possessed me to wander around at night, in an unfamiliar city. But, with rock music blasting from crackling amplifiers, later hardly matters.

For the first time, I’m coming out of my cage, and right now, it feels fine.




[rambles] Turning

Not to me.
Not to me.
Not for me.

Éponine, Les Misérables


Your skin burns.  It is morning.

Lately you’ve been learning not to listen to your instincts.  Instinct.  Such an animal word.  You aren’t an animal, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Your eyes glow darkly and your smile is feral and sometimes, sometimes (often) your body sings with wanting but your fine leash of control has worked against all temptation.  So far.

So far.

Today, temptation is a story.  You have a story.

You have a story. It itches to pour out of your fingers, bubbles like soda pop behind lips that want to smile and laugh and tease.  It is a small story.  A funny story.  A story that would do no harm, except the first person you think to tell—want to tell; could tell–is someone you promised to stay away from.

Someone you should stay away from.

So far, control is winning.  Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When the infection burns out the last of your blood. When you heart learns to stop beating.  When you don’t feel the instinct (that word again) to turn up your lips, reveal teeth better suited to things other than smiling.

When you aren’t quite so blindsided by the way they make you laugh.

Your fingers hover, still longing to make contact, dancing over the letters that spell out a name.  But the urge passes, as it always does.  Your willpower wins again, and by now you’re used to how it never really feels like winning.

Once upon a time you made a choice, or maybe it was made for you.  Once upon a time, you taught yourself to live without sunlight.  You don’t need it, not anymore—the years have taught you to see just as well in the dark—but sometimes you long to stretch your hand out and hold the yellow glow in your palms, pretend it would warm instead of burn.

You think they might be sunlight.  You think you might burn.  Moth to flame, delicate and easily consumed.

Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When they don’t seem to shine quite so bright.  When your eyes adjust.  When the tides completely turn.

Later, you promise.

Never, you know.


History Has Its Eyes

They buried the dictator today. It was sudden.  It was swift.  It was definitely not a rushed affair.  In the same day edit so laboriously prepared by his doting, despotic family, we see a precise, perfectly choreographed set of rites.  This was planned, all of it.

They’d planned to lie.

The burial at Libingan ng Mga Bayani was supposed to be scheduled on November 25—after the 15-day provision of appeal had passed, and then some.  By law, we were supposed to have those fifteen days to make our last, heroic appeal for human dignity.  But even the law let us down.  

Lately, it seems like that is all the law has been doing.

We’d planned to mobilise on November 25th.  Ours would have been an organised, orderly assembly.  Instead, a rushed, slapdash protest was all we got, scrambling to answer marching orders seven days too early.  The other side, old men proudly comparing student shoes to their everyman tsinelas and worn caps, had free food and merchandise.  We had torn signs, hostile police.

We did not become violent.  Before our friends marched to Taguig, to UP, to White Plains we warned them, do not be violent.  Do not let history repeat itself.  Days before, our President warned that he would consider suspending the writ of habeas corpus if the state of lawlessness continued.  Based on historical precedent, our government has always been inclined to see our protesting of their misguided decisions as unlawful.  The man we buried today built his dictatorship on the backs of silenced student protests and planted bombs.

Violence would be all the excuse a demagogue needed.  History repeats.  History is the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

History has its eyes.  It watches.  What will it see?  Will it see a never-ending cycle?  There are too many parallels between 2016 and those dark days of the 1970s.  A charismatic man of the people—a lawyer—coming to power with a promise of peace and order.  A major social threat—then, communists; now, drugs—that had to be stamped out.  A controversial decision leading to student uprisings.  A declaration of a state of lawlessness.  A slippery slope growing more and more familiar.

Perhaps, perhaps, it was not a coincidence that our Commander in Chief allied himself with the dictator’s son.    Perhaps that is also why he made that promise: “I will bury the father in the Cemetery of Heroes.”

Perhaps they believe that by laying him to rest in ground consecrated in the blood of better men would somehow declare him to history as a better man.

The dictator is no hero.  Not even a military one.  His stellar combat record has been proven time and again as an invention, his daring deeds of derring-do appropriated from other, braver soldiers.  He might not have been dishonourably discharged, but history has proven him to be dishonourable.  And yet there, in the final resting place of heroes, he lies.  He lies.

They all do.  They twist the dates to prevent dissenting voices.  They simper in press releases, asking for “privacy.”  Once you assume the Presidency, your life becomes public domain.  Why bar the people from speaking if you had nothing to hide?

It is clear that the dictator—dead and buried though he may be—and his family still have things to hide.  Only, it is not from us, but from themselves.  We know the truth.  It is not buried six feet under in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.  It is not buried at all.  The truth is a matter of public record, a fact to which we have erected monuments: 3,000 killed, 35,000 sexually and physically tortured, 70,000 imprisoned, billions plundered.

The truth is a matter of public record, recorded in a list of the dead and still missing.

History has its eyes.  We have our voices.  A man may be buried, but the story of our revolution is not over.  Not until justice is done, and justice is not done, because no apologies have been made.

“Why do you stand?” they ask, mocking, “What’s done is done and cannot be undone.”  They accuse us of living in the past, not understanding that we are fighting for the future.  History repeats, and so it is up to us to write it into a pattern worth repeating.  

Administrations rise and fall, but people remember revolutions.

Tonight, somewhere in the city, we are assembling.  Tonight, we take back the history that was stolen from us.  Tonight, we stand for the truth that cannot be buried.

Tonight, and all the nights to come.