Of Lego and Haystack

The universe I knew was everything between the church, the wet market, my school, our house, and the farm. That was it, the world in its entirety, what lies yonder is practically unknown.

 

Of the points in my tiny world, the farm has a particular spot in my heart. As I could not see what goes past the horizon, I constructed a picture in my head of a vast sea hidden beyond never-ending rice fields. It starts at the end of our street and ends at the beginning of my imagination.

 

* * *

 

We all grew up in a community that became fundamental to who we were and are. Mine was a stretch of a street, although small, that neighborhood covered both poles of the economic continuum.

 

The Santiagos [not the real name]—the nouveau riche. Their mansions were towering fortresses, their balconies imposing, their gates impenetrable. They owned the most prominent textile and manufacturing businesses in town, the default go-to doors for liga de barangay solicitations, caroling, and organizers looking for a sponsor who could accommodate the quasi-celebrities guesting for fiestas. They tended manicured gardens, they have multiple cars, and rumor has it that they have a cinema in one of their extra rooms.

 

The Villa Puto [I swear to God, I am not making it up, this is the name of the compound]—the street rats. The lot they occupied was about the size of one of the Santiagos smaller mansions, but it housed twenty-plus families. It was a damp labyrinth of box quarters where the sun never reached the floor. It was like Agrabah; only you cannot run like Aladdin without slamming on a plyboard or being skewered by protruding wrought iron bars. There is no space for a pot of plant, it has an ambiance of an impending plague, but I would entrust my life with them, that’s for sure.

 

Our house sat between the Santiagos and Villa Puto. I became the arbitrator in so many class riots. They invited me in both households to play: One with expensive toys, those I often see being advertised on Saturday morning TV. The other was for old physical adventure, playing rough on battleships made of reclaimed wood planks, and we sailed the magical seas and fought our way through infestations of lice and parasitic worms—literally.

 

One day after school, the Santiagos sent one of their helps to fetch me with such urgency that I was optimistic they might be asking me to take the old Optimus Prime I have always been wanting to have.

 

I rushed to their foyer. Behold! A shiny box of Lego City Airport Set. My soul left my body. It was the same one from the commercials.

 

“You have never been to an airport, right?”

 

“No!” I answered while my eyes still affixed at the biggest box of toys I have ever seen in my life.

 

“Then you won’t understand this. Only people like us who TRAVELS know what an airport is.”

 

“Travel?”

 

And that was my first ever encounter with the word. I never understood it, and I was too busy living vicariously through these kids’ superfluous lifestyle. I sank to my knees in their thick Persian carpet, hoping to get my hand on unboxing the set.

 

“Don’t touch it. You’re dirty.”

 

The kids at Villa Puto needed no invitation, and doorbells were of no purpose to them. They would walk straight into our house, and if doors are closed, they could climb their way above the fence like real ninjas looting a fortified village. My mom endearingly called them “alipores,” referring to the way they followed me like a gang of bodyguards.

 

We never had expensive toys. But they taught me how to concoct a bubble solution by mashing gumamela petals, sucking nectars in santan pistils for survival, and even weaponizing amorseco seeds for self-defense.

 

On summer nights, the farm became our default rendezvous point. We laid piles of hay, and although itchy and pungent, it served as a passable alfresco bed mat—our refuge of bliss. We watched many dusks and got lulled while chatting and dreaming together until the dimming heavens sparkled with thousands of stars.

 

Eventually, I found out what travel means—It is going to different places for a particular mission or goal. In one of our stargazing sessions, I told the alipores I have been reading a lot about airports.

 

“… it is a gateway for rich people to travel. They wear dresses and suits when they board an airplane.” They attentively listened, struggling to grasp the idea.

 

“Tall and beautiful people will assist them with their suitcases, and whatever they needed throughout the flight—stewardess” I pulled out a torn page of Reader’s Digest, an advertisement page of Philippine Airlines from the ’80s.

 

“See? They serve food like it is Noche Buena too.” They passed the page around and marveled at the idea. One suggested that we should convert our wood plank battleship to an airplane.

 

“Who‘s the stewardess?” All hands stretched to heavens.

 

I held those moments close to my heart, and believed that one day, we would live in an enormous city full of lights, glimmering ten times brighter than the farm sky on summer nights. We will don clean shirts and shiny shoes, where we will be somebody where we will own things. We will ride real airplanes with real stewardesses, and see dusks from a whole lot of places. Life will be abundant, and we will be grateful for it, whatever it takes.

 

The Santiagos lead me to my dreams; the kids of Villa Puto build those dreams with me.

 

“We will TRAVEL. One day…”

 

My mom’s screech echoed from afar. Dinner’s ready.
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