Certain places in the city never catch my attention and make an impact—like the crowded stretch of a boulevard or the blinking signal of traffic lights. I consider them ordinary, the way most people do, and recognize them as merely a part of the overall rhythm of the life force that drives and moves the city.
There are reasons why we stay up late at night. Mine comes in a form of an escape, a flight outside the walls of this loud, blaring inferno that is the life in the city.
I live at the heart of Manila, right at the center of the ventricle of a machine that generates every kind of pollution known to man and made by man: you have car exhausts belching black smoke into the air like some kind of black magic; you have households pregnant with domesticated waste; you have headlines broadcasting the ghastly horror of the metropolis; and finally you have noise: earsplitting, endless like the wailing of a ghost that can not be still.
Hello September, it’s you again.
It seems to me that once again I have lost track of time. If someone comes up to me and asks what month it is today, I would probably say December or March without thinking twice, or scream the year 2010 without doubting its validity.
My sinking soul could only hold so much of its consciousness before it finally starts to displace its attention to something more crucial than the fleeting motion of people and events, before it finally starts to lose all reverence to time.
“Yes to life!” was my mantra on repeat as I stepped out of the door and into the burning embrace of a scorching Thursday morning. In my head was an elaborate map of the place I was supposed to go, backed up by a paranoid prayer to the Universe begging to keep me from getting astray in the wild city streets. In my head I was thinking the worst that could happen was not to be caught in death or in traffic jam, but to be cornered by perpetrators whose stone-eyed faces and hardened hands one could always encounter along the way. I was a lanky little paranoid, screaming at the top of my lanky little lungs: fucking Yes to life!
A few weeks back, one of my colleagues had provided me a detailed direction to get to this place that is well-known for scrumptious sushi. But as dumb to directions as I will ever be, I had to trust road signs and the little that is left in my gut-feeling to get to this place locals call Suki.
Where are words when you need them? At 9 in the morning my feet burned to the color of blood as I tread the crowded corridors and climbed the steepy stairway of the university. Beads of sweat drowned my forehead and left my lungs gasping for air. In my backpack are freshly printed term papers, tucked between books, begging to be read. In my eyes were traces of sleeplessness, the dizzying vision of a world without colours.
By the time I reached the room, final exam was already unleashing its poison in the dryness of the morning air. I looked at their faces, blank with expression, pained by the two-sentence question scribbled on the board, and told myself that there is no rush. But rush lies there no matter how much I fight back the current, no matter how much I resist.
Where are words when you need them? For the first time in months I felt the dried desperation of a person who has no words. I felt a desert-like barrenness in the vastness of my inarticulation. I felt arrested by failed attempts to translate my thoughts into written ideas. I felt dry and empty and loss for words, words, words.
The rest of the day was a haze. I remember their lips, stretched to make a sound, but nothing came out but muted silence as the hallways crammed up with faces both strange and familiar. I remember their voices and how they rang in all directions like the metro traffic. But nothing remained of the sound but the bitter aftertaste of a lost word with all its lost meanings.
Come afternoon the bloody gladiator game presented itself in the form of a rushed discussion on the subject of structuralism. Afterwards we were given a three-question exam on the said subject, and the pathetic little fool that I am racked my sorry little brain for all the right answers. I remember feeling sucked into a vortex. I remember hearing the silence up in my head, as if all my nerve cells closed down on business. I kept telling myself to calm the fuck down, to think of rush as an imaginary impetus. I kept telling myself to produce words, more words, for one more time. But all that I managed to do was to put into empty words my frail and under-developed understanding of Saussurean linguistics.
I felt defeated somehow. I spent the an entire night trying to decode the seemingly impenetrable text that were prescribed to us. But in the end it was all hopeless and in vain. I have known my professor since freshman year, and for all the time I get the most favorable marks, this was the first time I ever felt smashed by his questions.
Where are words when you need them? I think about it now — the words I have searched in the nether regions of my head, the words I have found to have no meaning at all, the words I have lost in the process. I feel their deception, their concealment, and how they slip ever so suddenly, like a sinister in the alley, when all I need are words words words to write my ideas and to express what I feel.
On my way home I felt an exhaustion quite unlike the academic kind. Sure, I could keep up with sleepless nights, writer’s block, brain paralysis, bouts of stress. But there’s nothing more profound than the sight of a finale, the muffled sound of an imminent end. The blasting noise of Manila traffic on a rush hour drowned the pounding rhythm of my fears and frustration as I marched the empty steps back home. I felt trapped in the imprisonment of my body, caged in my own limitations as a girl, a woman, a fucking piece of joke in the higher sphere that is philosophy. But most of all there is the maddening amount of hate and resentment brought by the inability to do that which is required of me because words, these dear words, have finally betrayed its user.
I checked my watch. The clock screamed past six o’clock. There’s nothing quite like the rush hour spectacle in the heart of the city. I spent much time inhaling carbon monoxide and watching private vehicles make a turn, speed up, hit brakes, clutch, gas, first gear, second gear, rev their engine. Signs say no U-turn, no left turn, no parking here. Crash on the nearest establishment, crash head on. Get the fuck away from this traffic jam, from this world. I counted every street sign, every street lamp, every street post, the silent countdown of 3, 2, 1, and waited dreamily for that green glowing light to say, “Young girl, it’s time for you to move on.”