Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Year

I came home last December 31, after an absence of several weeks, to a Lianga rocking and popping from the crackle of firecracker explosions and wreathed in the acrid smoke of the expended pyrotechnics with which it habitually celebrates the coming of every new year. Times may be hard and extra money scarce but the residents of my hometown are well known for doing things their own way and since they have become accustomed to ending each year with a bang (or plenty of it) they will always scrimp, save and find ways to do ample justice to what has become a noisy tradition.

I had legitimate doubts that I would be able to get home for the New Year celebration. The weather in Manila had been unseasonably wet and stormy and plane flights to Butuan City had been cancelled the previous day because of poor visibility there. When I boarded my plane, rain pelted the windows and the sky was overcast and gloomy. My fellow passengers and I ended up sitting on the runway for almost an hour while waiting for clearance to take off and there was an almost palpable sigh of relief from everyone when we did manage to get airborne and wing our way south.

The weather in Butuan turned out to be much better than I expected it to be. It had rained on and off the previous days but when I got off the plane, the air was hot and sultry despite the cloudy skies. I heaved a sigh of relief thinking that I had managed to shake myself free of Manila's wet and damp weather. Upon hindsight, I could not believe now how wrong I was to make that assumption.

But for that day, at least, the weather behaved and before evening fell, I was already cruising my hometown's dusty streets. I was weary and sick and tired of traveling. When I was younger, traveling was always an adventure, an experience to be savored and enjoyed. Not anymore. Perhaps I have become too old or jaded. But I got home in time and safely and for that, and a lot of other things, I was exceedingly thankful.

Coming home to Lianga has always been for me like slipping your feet into an old pair of favorite slippers. The slippers may look tattered and bit worn but every part of your foot, every toe and callus seems to slide in where it belongs. There is that comfortable familiarity, that feeling and sense of rightness in the world. It is like coming back to the womb, a rejoicing in the splendid solace of old and familiar things.

That evening, I took the time to watch the people of my town trying to banish the malignant spirits of the old year. There is a frenetic and frantic quality to the way they shattered the silence of the night with their bombs, rockets and sparklers. It was as if they now actually believed in what they were doing. I wondered if evil spirits, if they do exist, can be driven away. so easily.


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