Places (by Hannah Jo Uy)
My mattress is firm, the rocks and pebbles underneath me nothing but dust bunnies between my sheets of concrete. It pokes my rib, the sharp miniscule edges forming bumps and bruises. My head rests on my greatest treasure.
The smoke and smog make my dreams, and through them, I can vaguely see a home, a roof, a tender touch.
The passing cars and honking jeeps make up the cacophony of the reality that I’m not a part of.
I’m late for a class that has not begun, in a school that has been built in my head as part of a memory for a future that I hope to be in. I hug the ground, my only consolation. In it, there is no judgment for my hands stained with poverty. Hands deemed unworthy of precious soap. The footsteps of the people come and go, their hurried steps.
I am part of their scenery, the pimple of society that no one will talk about, but it doesn’t matter, because I continue dreaming.
The still waters hold an image I do not like to see. The cruel mirror for a life I do not want to have. The tragic evidence for the disappointments of those in my world.
I gaze in silent sadness, at my reflection. The careless wood propped up to keep me standing, the plastic tarps that have been thrown around me to keep me warm. The rusty nails used to keep me together.
Once upon a time, I was hopeful.
Once upon a time, it was all temporary.
Once upon a time, I thought I could be beautiful.
Maybe one day, I could be.
He wakes up hopeful. Back aching from the wires sticking out of the mattress, he stretches and dusts off the mosquitos that have bitten into his scarred skin. He fixes his bed, smoothening the mismatched sheets and tucking them under the tattered cushion. He walks carefully, trying to avoid the falling planks of wood underneath him, and goes to the bathroom. Washing his face meticulously, careful not to waste soap and water he tries to tune out the noisy neighbors complaining about their electricity, and the vulgar talk of sex and alcohol. He takes a towel and cleans his home. He wipes the decades old tv, the plastic monobloc chairs and table, making sure each corner is clean. He washes the dishes, scrubbing the china that he has accumulated for most of his life. Plastic, glass, chipped here and there. He sweeps his uneven floor, lovingly and tenderly. Enjoying the routine that his simple home has afforded him. He hammers back the loose nails. Paints over the scratched walls. He goes out and gathers wood to reinforce his fortress. Relishing in this simplest form of ownership. His own place in the universe, even just for this fleeting second.
Inside the boy is a spirit of adventure. He doesn’t see the wearied adults bothered by everyday worries. In him is an explorer that jumps over the uneven ground as though they were the rocks of the amazon.
He sees the hanging clothes and in his mind the combination of colors is the cloths woven by the mysterious women of morocco. He eats on the floor, a happy camper surviving in the woods of New Zealand, warming himself by the.
He cares for the plastic canisters of water as a thirsty wanderer lost in the deserts of Egypt. And he hides behind the flimsy walls, looking into the lens of a stranger and seeing a world where all this is possible.
I am the river of life. A life that many have been born into, and will die from. In me is the story of their lives. The torn up love letters, the statement of bills that have soaked up the dirty juices of poverty, the wads of lottery tickets crumpled in disappointment. They are all in me.
The broken bottles of beer, the used condom, the rotten food that never made it to empty stomachs. They are all in me.
The wrappers of peanuts, the plastic from the market used to carry the slice of beef that a mother had to haggle for, the week old newspaper used to scour for jobs. They are all in me.
The wrapper for a birthday gift hard earned, the dvd case of a movie used to escape and the last letter from the brother who will never return. They are all in me.
The brown bag filled with pan de sal, the bus ticket accumulated from going to the city, the plastic spoon cherished from a rare night out. They are all in me.
The stench of crime, injustice and corruption. They are all in me.
The vomit from the fathers who drank their anger away, the blood of the mothers who were left alone, and the tears of the children who were never given a chance.
In my village is an oasis of paradise. Here, we gather together to enjoy,to relax, to forget. We play, forgetting for a moment that these shallow waters can easily mean our death. We play, forgetting that on the other side of our houses, the very same water is used to clean,to wash, to scrub. The women watch daintily from the windows up above on our house of stilts made from the slender wood that is the root of our home.
We play, forgetting the smell.
We play, forgetting our hungry stomachs.
We play, as those who have been to beaches of Miami don’t know how to play.
We play, in our own piece of paradise.
Welcome to riverside homes.
You may set up your home as you wish. Here, in riverside homes, we promote an environment of freedom.
Inject your personal home with your own personality. We encourage creativity and resourcefulness. Not just in terms of design, but as well as electricity, water and in the very basic needs of human survival.
Be aware of the rising tides.
In the event of the storm, the administration will not be responsible for the death, destruction and loss of your home. Please observe the rules implemented by the administration for your own safety as we are currently waiting for our letter of support to the organizations to be answered. Thank you and enjoy your stay, here at riverside homes.
Her drained soul awakens from the racket of the children. They are hungry and crying, and she doesn’t know what to do. Her husband is beside her, passed out.
He smells of cigarette and women. A smell she has woken up to for the past 20 years. She gets up, ignoring her arthritis and fixes the children leftover rice from their previous dinner and salt. She goes out to get water, as she moves the curtains with her abused hands, she sees her reflection in the water. And for that moment, her heart cries for all the pain of her youth.
I am the city.
In my streets are the hurried steps of lost people going somewhere only to come back at the end of the day.
Within the walls of the houses are stories of people. I hear their laughter, from the simple joys. I hear their pain from the tragedies of life. I hear their tears from the disappointment of the years, and I hear the heavy whispers of secrets that flutter between them.
In each window is a soul. In all windows there is a collection people, simply being people. Surviving, helping, stealing and loving. I am the city, I am dirty, unloved and abused..But in my corrugated roofs of orange and red, in my mismatched tiles and overlapping wires, in my thwarted attempts of greenery is a beauty unlike any other.
The walls are stained with the faded dreams of the people. Marked with their hardships, their handprints of dirt paint the façade of what used to be a wonderful future.
Before it was a bright and shiny possibility.
Fresh from the blueprints and the innovative plans of doe-eyed architects.
Now, it is a monument of the city.
A monument of fallen plans and shattered fantasies of a better life.
On the 20th floor, a young boy looks out the window of his room. He sees a sprawling view of houses. The people like little ants hurrying from one corner to another. Splashes of bright colors make up a wall here, and a roof there. The old tarps from the advertisements of billboards and posters of unknown faces are added in every corner.
Within one of these corners, is another young boy.
He looks up at the towering buildings. The intimidating monument of glass and steel that put him to shame. From his corner of the street decorated by crumpled candy wrappers and dirty rain water, he looks up at these giants. He sees his dirty barefeet and his stomach grumbles with curiosity at what strange creatures must live on the other side.
From his room, he looks at it is a maze. He traces the edges of the houses, wondering what the stories are of those that belong to it.
I pump the water into the bucket. Filling it up to the top, until it’s overflowing and greedily I take the soap. For this moment, I am clean. For this moment, I wash away the scent of my hardships. I wash away the taste of my hunger. I wash away the dirt of my surroundings. I was away the stares of people who couldn’t care less. I wash away the scabs from the wounds of my youth. I wash away my disappointment, my anger and my frustrated. For this moment, I am clean and left with a future to work for.
Hannah Jo Uy
Hannah Jo Uy is a Filipino writer based in Manila. A variety of her works has been published in Meg Magazine, Inquirer and Philippine Free Press. She works as a writer for art galleries and artists as well as a graphic designer. She is the designer and writer for Artistako.com, a site that aims to promote local Philippines art.