“Attention passengers, the seatbelt sign has been turned on due to turbulence. Please go back to your seat and fasten your seatbelt. If you want to lay back and cover with a blanket, please make sure your seat belt is fastened outside. Thank you,” one of the flight attendants said through the loudspeaker, while I turned to see my mom dozing with her head against the window.
In nine hours, we’ll be there. That’s not too long Dani, I thought, feeling fatigue slink into my body. My chest ached, realizing that my friends and I were now separated. All the people I’d spent every hour of every day with, left behind back in Miami. It’s okay, 9,280 miles isn’t super far. You’ll see them again. Maybe not so soon but you will see them, there’s the internet and phone cards and many other options. My mother and I were on our way to the Philippines, moving there on short notice because of my lola. She had been diagnosed with chronic ischemic heart disease and an atrocious eye infection, so we were going to help my tita Janice and her sisters take care of her. I loved my grandmother and I did worry about her, but still, leaving so many people behind hurt so much.
“Dani, kailangan mo kumain ng ito. Hindi ka pa kumain ng almusal,” My mother shook me awake. “it’s nine a.m.” She gestured to the airplane food tray placed in front of me.
“Mom, I’m not hungry and my stomach feels sick. Maybe there’s gas from the altitude?” I responded, rotating my neck to massage the crick. “How many hours until we land?”
“In an hour, we should be landing. Here, drink some water at least. You don’t have anything in your stomach,” She handed me a bottle of water. “ate Jhelyn will pick us up with kuya Jayson. I’ll ask them to stop by Chow King to get you better food,” she said, consternation grazing her exhausted features.
“Don’t worry, Mama. Lola will be okay and I’ll adjust,” I said, feeling pity for her. She worked hard to support us, her family. She smiled at me, leaning to place a kiss upon my forehead.
“I love you, baby ko.”
“I love you too, Mama.”
“Ate? Saan ka ba? Ang dito pa kami ni mama sa loob ng airport,” I asked through the phone while helping my mom roll the luggage cart down a steel ramp. “Okay, we’ll see you there,” I responded, hanging up and getting out to feel the humid, yet drying heat of the Philippines.
“They said they’re stuck in traffic and to wait in front of L and they’ll drive the car in,” I told my impatient mom, who kept complaining, wondering where they were.
“Ang bagal, bagal nila. Ano ba yan? Gusto kong maligo. We’ve been traveling for two days!” She said, causing me to laugh. I mean, it wasn’t their fault that they were taking forever, Manila traffic was terrible, though, I wanted to cleanse the airplane atmosphere that had accumulated all over my clothes the past two days.
“Lola, kamusta ka na? Are you okay?” I asked, wondering how she had been feeling when I finally saw her sitting down at the kitchen table playing with Monigue III, a white cat. She loved white cats, and every time she got a new one, she’d name it Monigue.
“Ah Daniella, ang favorito kong apo.” She told all her grandchildren that, “Mabuti naman ako. Saan ba yung mama mo?” She responded, getting up to hug me, but stopping halfway, clutching her chest. “Aray.”
“Lola? Masakit ba? Eto po, drink ka ng tubig,” I said, worrying and grabbing a water bottle from the shelf. “Mama. Mama!” I yelled, setting my grandmother down and letting her drink the water.
“What Daniella!?” she yelled back, seemingly annoyed.
“I think Lola has heart pain,” I replied and my mom came rushing in.
“Inang, uminom mo to. Maganda sa puso,” my mom said, handing Lola a mug with some sort of herbs in it. “You’re,” she paused. “hindi ka allowed kumain ng taba, yung baboy or beef. Reduce sa kain ng meat.” Not allowed to eat fatty foods such as pork, she started lecturing my grandmother. I took that as my queue to leave.
“Daniella!” My tita Janice called, “Go to the Palenke at bumili ka ng groceries.”
“Tita, where is the palenke? Hindi ko alam saan yun. What do I even buy there?” I asked when she came into view.
“Walk straight from the bukid, make a right at Ilang–Ilang Street and continue walking. Then make a left at Sampaguita Street and it’ll be on the right. Buy calabasa, sitaw, ocra and potato,” she said, handing me 1,000 Philippine pesos. “I’ll be with your mama and your lola sa cuarto. Pag bumalik ka, legay mo sa mesa ng cocina.”
“Okay, po,” I responded, pocketing the money. “Alec, if you didn't hear, I'm now going to run errands. I'll talk to you later, okay? Catch some sleep; it's a twelve hour difference and it's already twelve,” I told my friend, who had just watched the exchange in silence on Skype, before ending the call.
“Ah, your friend is there. No wonder you haven't come out of the room. Anyways, just come back before three. Bye! Stay safe,” Tita Janice said before exiting the room.
“Time to walk in the volcanic sun, woo!” I said to myself while putting on some shoes. “Okay so I have to walk straight from the bukid. Where the heck is th- oh.”
I walked towards the muddy terrain only housing green sprouts of rice and a cow. “Now to walk straight. Man, I should've paid attention to that tour my lola and tita were giving me.”
I missed my friends. They always accompanied me anywhere and made our trips fun, even if we were just going to buy a loaf of bread. It was so different not physically seeing or hugging them. Why'd we have to move? Couldn't we just have done visits or hired someone to care for Lola?
“Hey! Do you wanna die? Get out of the middle of the road!” some tricycle driver yelled out.
I rolled my eyes and moved to the side, everyone walked in the middle of the muddied paths, they shouldn’t be counted as roads. “Okay, so I think this is Ilang–Ilang Street. But I wouldn't know, since there's no flipping sign, but I'm pretty sure this is it.”
“Baliw ba sha? Nagsasalita sa kanyang sarili,” said some lady on the road, wondering if I was crazy, since apparently, speaking to yourself was unfamiliar.
Well that's rude, I thought and continued walking. Whatever. “Ah! Here's Sampaguita Street, so a left?” I had never realized how close we lived. What the heck? Oh, it’s there. I walked toward the sign that said Baliwag Bulacan, Palengke in faded pine green. “Time to shop!”
“Frick!” I said. I swear this should've been the right direction. According to my watch, it was already 3:10, and I had no idea how to get back. The palengke was huge, with so many different stalls selling a variety of things, vendors trying to pull you in to buy cheap flip flops or even cleaning supplies. Where the heck am I going? Isn't this the exit? Ugh, I'm just going to ask someone but who? Oh, maybe that old lady.
“Hello? I'm lost–naliligaw ako. Saan ba yung Ilang–Ilang street?” I asked.
“Ano?” The lady asked, but it sounded like more of a yell.
“Naliligaw ako. Alam mo ba saan yung Sampaguita Street.” I repeated my question in a different way, hoping she could help me find the right place.
“Doon,” she said, pointing at… a young lady who held leis on her arms. Um, okay then.
“Salamat po,” I said, thanking her with the customary sign of respect for elders, po, before walking off to go ask the woman who was selling leis if she could help.
“Hi, um. Puede- ano ba yun? Um. Can you help me? Saan ba yung Sampaguita Street?”
“Americano! You are, right? I've been hoping for one soon!” She said in a lively voice.
“Yeah, how'd you know? You speak English?!” I asked, I hadn’t expected for her to speak such fluent English.
“Yeah! I'm from America. Well, my parents are Filipino, but I was born and raised in California. I moved here two years ago to attend school. It's easier for them,” she said. “Oh! How about I walk you to your house? Is it far from Sampaguita street?” she added with a smile.
“No? I mean it took me about ten minutes to walk here because I was confused about the streets. I mean, I don't mind but it's up to you. You seem busy.”
“Nah, let’s go. I'm only helping out my cousin.”
“Oh, here! Before we embark on this journey, here's a Sampaguita! It means lots of things, such as new beginnings, hope, love and, in this case, I'm giving this to you as a token for friendship.” She grabbed a lei that was hanging on her arm and gave it to me.
Although it’s inevitable that we encounter other complications, we know that we all have a flower of hope, something to admire, when we’re stuck somewhere dark. After all, the Sampaguita actually blossoms at night, where it’s dark and devoid of happiness, hope, joy, love and devotion. The Sampaguita reminds people that there’s beauty everywhere, and with that beauty, they’ll find life’s best qualities.