Missing the Scent of Pines

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It’s been a while since I’ve been back home.

Last night was standing room at the bus from Ortigas to SM Fairview, so I decided to do the polite thing and make my way to the back of the bus.  Air-conditioned “goodness” is completely relative; the vents were pointed directly at the back of my head.  The cold breeze and antifreeze was literally killing me.  The pine-scented cardboard tree dangling above my head didn’t help much, either.  Pregnant woman to the front of me, old woman to the back of me, guy to the right of me, conductor to the left of me.  Into the mouth of Hell, rode the hundred passengers.

Do the man thing, I thought, and decided that I might as well die from exhaustion, suffocation, and intoxication from automobile refrigerant.

When the bus stopped near the Baliwag Bus terminal at Cubao, there was a vacant seat for me to occupy.  The soonest I looked out the window, I saw the Victory Liner terminal, with a bus bound out to my hometown: Baguio City.  The smell of pine that still lingered on me was nothing compared to what home had.  Home, where the pines were real, where there’s no standing room on jam-packed buses, where I didn’t have to distract my loneliness and despair with lots of work, and a mad chase for deadlines.

I came to Manila to fulfill a dream, to make something out of my life… and to a certain extent, I realized them.  As much as I want to spend the rest of my life writing in Baguio, there aren’t too many opportunities for me there outside of ESL and call centers.  Here, I was able to be a writer, I was able to be a journalist, I was able to be many things that I could never have dreamed of if I stayed there.

Yet even fulfilled dreams make way for new ones.  Now, I dream of places like UP Baguio, which is still the best place to have a cigarette regardless of no-smoking policies.  Or Good Taste Restaurant, which serves the best damn chicken dishes in the world.  Or Cafe by the Ruins, where their flavorful teas always taste better with a side of basil bread and herb cheese.

Or Cyberfritz: or as I call it, Experiment Headquarters.

Session Road.  Harrison Road.  South Drive.  The azucena at Comiles that warms both body and soul.  Coffee at the small nooks at Pacdal, right after a good feed of bibingka on Christmas Mass at St. Joseph Parish.  Fabulous indigenous dishes – or even bulalo – not at the dank all-too-notorious place right behind the 3H bus depot, but at the dangerous-looking streets of Sumulong and Jacinto: Sagada Lunch, or the ones between Orion Hardware, the massage parlors, and the gay hairdressing shops at Shoppersville.  The blood-sauce made famous by the elder Balajadia at the Slaughter Compound, where you would eat in full view of the Iglesia ni Cristo across the road.  Where “Chapparal” was more than myth, it was a very real legend.

And yes, my home in Brookside; my comforters, my stuffed animals, my books, my family.

Seven months ago, I took the 2 AM bus out of Baguio, and I never had the opportunity to take the 2 AM bus out of Cubao and back to Baguio.  There aren’t too many opportunities for me to go home knowing that the opportunities on my plate are things that bring me a step further and higher from the prospects of teaching ESL or taking calls half a world away.  A single-minded desire to be a writer has, in fact, made me one.  But at the expense of spending time at the place I love most, with the people I love.

I guess all of this sentimentality – OK, emo – comes from the fact that Baguio isn’t my adopted home, nor is it the place that I think or feel to be home.  I was born there 23 years ago, and I lived 22 years of my life there.  I lived – and if I have my way, I’ll die – in 2600.  I suppose I miss Baguio so much because it’s a genuine feeling of loss, mujo; at best, I’m a transient here in Manila.  Two hundred fifty kilometers up there, I was home.  I lorded over the mountains, I ruled over the steep slopes.  I was home.

There will come a time that I will be back home.  I don’t know when, and I don’t know how long I’ll stay there.  A visit, maybe, or even for good.  Until then, I’ll write… and I’ll pick these words tonight at the next big show.  Shooter Jennings… I used to listen to his songs back there.

Until then, I have pine-scented car freshening cardboard trees to remind me of who I am.  And where I came from.

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