My favorite workspace at the moment is a table in the coffee shop of a hotel just a couple of minutes walk from the Silliman high school. I can sit for hours, nursing a cup of brewed coffee, occasionally dipping into the fries that they serve with their hamburgers. The staff know me from when I used to check in here for the privacy and airconditioning, whenever I had a big project to finish. My husband and I stayed here for a couple of weeks when he came to visit my family last year.
There are paintings by local artists: intricate watercolors of marine life, and genre scenes in oil, which give the hotel an elegant touch you don’t usually find in the Philippines, where similarly-priced establishments display the sort of cheapo Manansala rip offs and diligently-photorealistic images of coconuts and santan that I equate with the Mabini area of Manila. I watch the foreigners, and try to identify the nationality of the Europeans by their speech. It seems to be favored by Europeans rather than East Asians, perhaps it is promoted more heavily in Germany and Scandinavia as the owner (or part-owner? Manager?) is said to be Swedish.
The best part is that my workspace is just a hundred meters from the house where I was born (not literally: I was born at the mission hospital, like countless other Silliman kids). But it was the house where I grew up, and the view from the hotel’s windows, of the acacia canopy and Silliman’s fading residences, is the same view I had as a little kid heading home in my red checked uniform skirt, in the footsteps of my older sister. The patch of cogon where Ace and Tisoy, the Montebon’s dog, followed each other round and round over a path their paws had trodden out – that’s been gone, ripped out, and where we had a stand of umbrella palms, there’s a bright green VW beetle. I don’t go down to the house, which looks dingy now and utterly devoid of magic. I prefer to keep my memories as they were.
I suppose this project I’ve been working on for some time, as well as the next one, have been complicated ways of dealing with my sister’s death. Of preserving her in some way, in a more dignified state, a state from decades ago when she would have been free to undo the choices that ultimately led to her destruction. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t protect her from the harm that resided close, so close.