FIELDNOTES: A Saturday Through A Dying Center

Tito Genova Valiente

IT WAS ten o’clock. The rain did not come. Dan, a lawyer-friend who writes about poems about his daily encounters, and I were looking at the Rizal monument. We were not merely staring at the statues, for there were many; we were inspecting every details of the tribute to this man who wrote two novels upon which we attribute our awakening to a sense of nation. Not injustice committed against our great-grandparents, not murder of our kin, not cruelty against our women and children but literature. We are intellectuals. As a nation, we, by default, reads. But we know many of us do not. In fact, it is not any kind of mandatory and demented drugs tests that should scare our teachers and students; it is the mandatory investigation on one thing, just on one thing: what book have you read this month? If non-reading is a crime, then many of us shall be executed. It is only proper therefore that two friends would walk after partaking of a nice meal from a pretentious café where waiters are on OJTs from some state colleges and are therefore not expected to know the difference between a margarine and a butter, and decide to inspect the ruins of a Centro. The city dies from its center. That is quite a quote. Who said that? A poet? A politician? A priest? The problem is it is not a quote. It is a sentence from me but on that night, as I said that line, I felt it was a quote, a homage to the past. So there we were at the bottom of the statue that was constructed so we would always stretch our neck, and look up. From below, Rizal had one hand clutching a book, a reference to the writer in him. His other arm was outstretched. From where we were during the first instance, with our back to Naga Optical, the other hand of Rizal, the one that held nothing, made no sense. In fact, they was bluntly carved – the fingers – that I asked Dan how many fingers were there. We had to walk around the monument in order to see how the hand was constructed. Stop by with your back to the stands selling peanuts and look up: the hand is agitating or calling attention to a point made. As we went around the die of the monument, we looked intently at the female figures. They represented life in all its endeavors. One held a piece of paper that looked like a diploma; one held a farm implement and a lyre, an idealization about Art and Agriculture. From this burdened woman we reach the other part of the die: a woman is guiding a little boy to look up. The boy carries a book, a miniature icon of the one on the cap of the monument. The hand of the woman pointed to Rizal but that hand grazed also the figure of an Angel, or a bewinged creature. Ardently conjured the Angel’s body seemed attached to the monument even as s/he did not actually clutch at any part of the structure. The Angel is below the hero! What is the lesson behind this iconography? That the hero is such a big deal even an Angel who is a heavenly big deal has to settle for a position below. Rizal, by this reckoning, must had been seen as a god. What was said in the old classification: we are slightly lower than the Angels but higher than the worms? The finest image around the Rizal monument that night was not Rizal but the Angel. She was there, seemingly pasted on the plinth of the monument, a floating, fleeting being. Her/his foot gracefully dangled as if clouds kissed it and kept it suspended. There were three women around Rizal, which made the monument triangular in persuasion. Triangle. The form of equality and perfection. The shape beloved by the non-believers was hidden by those who set up this monument to a hero that did not like the institutional Church. These shapes, these universal forms, these essences of perfection should be carved out of those words of platitude when this Man’s birthday comes around or, with morbidity, when those who admire him celebrate as well his mortality. The shape of the ground on which the hero watches over a city should be stellar and not the speeches about love of country and dying for one’s country that are insipid. We were ten and twenty minutes circling the monument that, soon, we felt eyes and gazes touching our back. Turning around, we saw this woman, with a big tummy and eyes bulging because there was so much mascara around them. Gusto po nindo? It was a question that would have stunned a Saint Augustine. No faith or ideology can bear to understand a question, which simply asks, “Do you want.” Translated, the question in that language had no object in its verb. The woman looked old despite the lipstick; on her, the red that shaped the lips into a curve that promised eternity in ten or fifteen minutes, depending on your ability to sustain pleasure, was more of a scar, a stain. We played stupid: Anong boot mong sabihon (What do you mean?)? She played the Wise: Anong hanap nindo (What are you looking for?) I do not remember clearly what happened next. I recall though that we ended our walk that night in front of a tree that looked as if it had been punished by the gods and not by gravity or storm. The trunk where it was cut twisted to the direction of the monument. Along the way up, on its branches and stem black, rounded mounds had formed. After the fauna, we were inspecting the flora in the park. We looked strange, I believe, to those men and women who had formed cults of desire around the monument. Rizal was their idol, their lodi, the dude that allowed them to congregate not to fight the bodies but to surrender to the call of the flesh. In the absence of a clear template of a nation and patriotism, the plaza in the decaying Centro of this city, can stand for something greater than any make-believe histories and trumped-up politics of a hero whose book we really are never happy to read.