Driving to Kalookan
I left the house in Quezon City feeling excited. I had to drop by a friend’s mom and I knew it was a good opportunity to drop by our old neighborhood. I turned left from Rizal Avenue to 6th avenue and decided to look for my old school. I got lost and found myself on the street where the old house was. It is still there. The house where I grew up. I parked by the school beside the house and…. School? There wasn’t a school there. The old apartment beside out house was converted to a pre-school covering the ground floor of our old house. The second and third floors were retained. Old. Dilapidated. Not maintained.
Seeing the old house
I stood outside the house for a few minutes and decided to call my mom. She was laughing and I felt she was glad to hear that I visited our old place. While talking to my mom, I kept looking up the rooftop where we normally played. I recall walking very slowly by the roof edge while my older brother just walked as if he were on the streets. I was afraid of heights and yet, I would still climb out the window and play at the rooftop.
I had to end the call as I saw a man waving at me. I walked over to the house where the man was.
His name is Allan. He was a neighbor and my eldest brother’s friend. There was another man who knew me, but I did not have the courage to ask who he was. He knew my name. He knew all my brothers’ names. He told me about how my dad loved to cook and would share the food to them over beer. He chuckled as he said that my dad might have died early because he cooked a lot and it turned out bad for his health.
Allan called the attention of an old lanky guy seated nearby watching a game of billiards. He ‘s Mister Ong. Mister Ong and his family owns a big warehouse across our old place. But the warehouse is not longer there, it’s been converted to an apartment complex. A man a few years younger than me kept walking around us with a kid in his arms, he smiled at me a few times but i kept my focus at Allan who relentlessly asked about my siblings.
They asked about my brothers’ whereabouts, how they are, how we are. They also asked about my cousins. With every question, there was a slight thought of how-the-fuck-did-you-know-about-that moment that made me realize —
I was never the friendly neighborhood kid. I kept a small circle of kids my age to play with. No more. No less.
I tried to engage in the conversation by asking about the two Beth’s who lived nearby. But I do not recall getting any clear response, ir maybe, I was too busy glancing at the street where I used to play as a kid.
Allan called on a rather chubby woman walking a few meters from where we were. He called her “Day-Day” and I instantly knew who she was. She was that girl my age who belonged to the tres marias and frequented my mom’s salon back in the days. She waved at us and went on her way.
I zoned in and out of the conversation as I noticed:
- the medical clinic near our house is still there, but I didn’t know if it’s the same doctor.
- the bake shop 20 meters from our house is no longer there.
- the basketball court where my two older brothers played basketball is not there, and shockingly, the street looked too small to fit a basketball court. Or then again maybe I was too small then that everything else was big
- the pine tree where I used to hide when playing hide and seek is not there. Now I’m left thinking, was that a pine tree? Do pine trees grow in Manila?
They kept referring to my mom as Mrs. Ching. I suddenly realized that despite my mom’s congeniality to the neighborhood, she was still addressed with respect. Or maybe it goes with the Chinese surname?
I excused myself as I noticed Day-day standing at the back of my car. I went over and as I approached, she shouted my name. It made me smile, genuinely. We exchanged a few hi’s as she told me she was still single and laughingly called herself a spinster. She asked about the same questions Allan asked earlier. Then she suddenly asked if I lived alone. I said,
No, I live with my jowa.
She laughed so hard. Well, it felt like a nervous laughter. She had to excuse herself since she had to go to church “as usual since I’m an old maid.” I shook her hand and we said our goodbyes.
I drove off and in less than 50 meters I parked once again. I saw an old sari-sari store (convenience store) called Agabaos. It was the one-stop-shop for everything I needed when I was a kid — school supplies, junk food, christmas exchange gifts, salon stuff (for my mom’s). I had to buy something. Anything. I walked in and realized I didn’t know what to buy. The lady asked me and I just said Coke. She asked if it were the plastic bottled one or the 12 oz. coke. I squinted and she continued by saying, “It it’s the plastic one, we don’t have it…”.
12 oz. please.
I lit a cigarette outside the store while I had my Coke. I noticed the corner lot where big construction machines used to park. I noticed now there were forklifts and none of those with angry sharp teeth and long necks. I left Agabaos after a few minutes and found myself turning left to a street less than 50 meters away.
The street was again, seemingly small. I saw a crowd building up near the gate of the church where I used to spend summer especially the holy week. I remember playing the role of the Angel a few times during Easter Sunday. This is the same church where I would attempt to finish the Nine Mornings every Christmas, but I would always fail doing so.
It was a brief “drive through” and I went on my way home. I suddenly felt the urge to turn right at C. Cordero street thinking it would be easier to reach C3 road.
Suddenly, I found myself parked across my old school — my old kindergarten school. Memories of the twin boys bullying me in kinder came back to me. No, it wasn’t traumatic or anything. What was more striking was the memory of the smell of my kindergarten classroom. I opened my window and took a quick picture of the facade. And drove off.
A smile on my face.
I traversed the stretch of Araneta Avenue with a smile on my face. I don’t know why exactly but I guess Kalookan will always bear witness to the innocent me. Days of playing in the sun, days of Fiesta and Community basketball leagues, days of childhood gone so fast.
Days that I cannot bring back anymore, yes, but days that will always bring a big smile on my face.