Friday, September 10, 2004

what willi lost

In the course of corresponding with Willi Pascual, he shared with me the story of what he won and lost.
As a writer who is also an expatriate, it is hard for a Filipino to leave his homeland and still pursue his passion to write, knowing how lonely and how much difficult it would be away from home to seek recognition from his own country.

The Palanca medal was the ticket that brought me back home.

I have been writing stories all these years about lives I have left behind, relying mainly on memory and imagination.

My winning entry itself was a story of a trip I made back home after ten years to meet for the first time Nora Aunor, Philippine cinema’s most enduring icon, a woman whose art and life inspired me. It meant a lot to those who longed for Nora in foreign lands, members of the International Circle of Online Noranians (ICON) who first read my stories as postings in our e-group. The Noranians in Manila were the first to celebrate with me after I received my prize. They took me out for dinner at a seafood restaurant. Mandy Diaz of GANAP (Grand Alliance of Nora Aunor Philippines) cooked sinigang for me in Caloocan while the others partied at Gerry’s Grill in Libis.

The medal also allowed me to return to my home province where friends, young Novo Ecijano poets and writers, came to celebrate and show me the early poems and stories I thought I had lost. They have kept my writings in their wallets and even memorized a few line by line. They said that the Palanca award inspired them to continue writing along with the students who came to listen to me talk at the Central Luzon State University, who later asked if they could see the medal and touch it. Because of the medal, I have returned to my hometown with my name in streamers hanging from the arc that welcomed visitors to the city, in the city hall itself, the university gate and the high school where I graduated. I was presented at the university flag-raising ceremony and the mayor and the city officials honored me with a plaque recognizing me as an outstanding son of the city. It was important for them because more than the recognition itself, it was the kind of return one would hope for a kin and a friend whose struggles they knew firsthand, a hometown boy who left a long time ago and has finally returned.

As it turned out, I would lose the medal on the same day.

He continues:
It’s tempting to call it fate. I am leaving the country again without the symbol of what it all meant to me - no medal, no plaques, no pictures. Again I will have to rely on memory to write it all down. And because I know that I will not be hanging a tangible object on the wall or keeping it inside a drawer, the weight of the lost medal becomes heavier on my chest, the act of remembering will be around my neck in every single moment of a life lived away from home.

He concludes:
Again it was midnight and it reminded me how like Cinderella’s ball, my celebration was short-lived, how everything had turned out as it should be as warned by the fairy godmother. I kept thinking of the person who now holds the medal. Did he recognize the value of the medal? Was he torn between returning it or selling the digital camera?

We saw a taxi coming that stopped a few meters before us. We walked towards it and as I was about to open the door, I looked down and saw something on the pavement.

“Marc,” I said, “Look!”

I could not believe it. Right where I was standing was a pair of leather sandals. It rested on the road neatly placed together, as if it waited to be found, beckoning. Why would somebody leave them on the road? My thoughts raced but the taxi was waiting. I picked up the sandals and held it close to me inside the taxi. As the taxi drove, Marc asked me why I had to pick it up and take it with me.

“Do you think it means something?” I asked.

“Ewan ko. Ikaw naman ang magaling diyan.” Marc said. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know yet,” I answered, my voice breaking as I hugged the pair of sandals and began to weep for everything that happened the past week, for everything that was lost and found, for everything I long to recover in the heart of my journeys, my arrivals and departures.

His prize-winning essay, "Devotion", will be published in Literatura magazine. Literatura is edited by Ian Casocot (and I will guest-edit a future issue devoted to grafiction).

It will also come out as a series in Bicol Chronicles, the oldest newspaper in Noralandia.

When it is made available, make sure to read it. It is so well-written, it's irresistable...
In March 2003, I met a Noranian in Caloocan City who had enshrined a pair of Nora Aunor’s worn, green Via Venetto shoes in an empty aquarium.


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