You’d know that summer was coming when the bougainvilleas around the old Spanish White House at Bayani Street were in full bloom, vibrant in their pink glory. I was always unsure if anyone else in our street noticed it, but I’d stop by to take photos of the scene on my way home from the gym. After admiring the flowers for a while, I’d then drag myself to the end of the street where our house is.

The White House, the walls of which are surrounded by shrubs of santan, has always been a mystery to me. Its stained glass windows hide people we rarely see and we barely know, though they are supposedly close relatives of ours. I have never met them, except for this one time on a Christmas morning in the early 2000s, but I was too young to remember what the inside of the house looked like. 

This street where I grew up on, Bayani Street, was named after the common surname of the families who lived here—but mainly because of Doctor Bayani, the richest resident. I have always believed that the house was haunted by Doctor Bayani himself, though I never really met him and I don’t have a third eye. 

This street and town feels like a distant memory to me now. Growing up, I would admire the towering chico tree in front of our grandmother’s house and enjoy its fruits during summer. Now the old house and the old chico tree have been replaced by five apple green apartments whose tenants sometimes keep me up at night when they have karaoke parties. It’s irritating. 

There also used to be these yellow and black painted iron barrier bars on either side of the street where my cousin and I would play every afternoon. Since the street is also on Arnedo Dike, a big dike system beside the Pampanga River (or the Rio Grande de Pampanga as the richer, more “sophisticated” Kapampangans like to call it), we would play on the side slopes of the street which were plastered with huge rocks and covered in moss, making the slippery climb more challenging for eight-year-olds. 

My favorite time was when the fiesta would come. The festivities would last for three days at the end of June, Apalit’s highway would be lined with baratilyos or small stores that sold toys, clothes, and other whatchamacallits, and the leftover batsas and kalderos of food lasted for weeks. To honor St. Peter, or Apung Iru, the town’s patron saint, his devotees would hold libad—a fluvial parade proceeding from Cansinala, which is at the other end of Apalit, to San Juan, where his namesake parish is.

His devotees would crowd on the riverbanks while enjoying the feast before them, and throw water balloons made of “yelo” plastic at those in the boats, who would retaliate with their own water balloons, too, filled with water from the river.

After the fiesta, everything would return to its quiet state. Nothing much happens in Apalit aside from the apartment complexes and buildings rising from places where there used to be trees and century-old houses. Like my grandparents and some of the older people here, everything and everyone I grew up with have begun to fade away. 

Everything else about Bayani street and this town of Apalit remains a mystery to me. Aside from the fact that a La Sallian brother hailed from here, there is not much to tell about this place. I’ve never stayed here for long since college; at most, I would come home only once or twice a month — three if I really missed my mom’s home cooking.

To me, Apalit is a paper town, just another border you cross going north at the expressway. A town whose only redeeming factor is its neighborhoods’ rural-urban feel and sense of peace. 

I have been to Nueva Ecija, Baguio, Metro Manila, and Palawan, but never here again — until COVID-19 started. The pandemic has dragged on too long for me, such that I’m having my quarter life (bold of me to assume that I might actually reach 100 years) crisis in a place where I feel most alien. 

At 24, it seems like I am going nowhere and that I am no one at the same time. I can’t call Apalit home anymore. I am itching to leave my hometown again and go back to the metro, or anywhere else. I myself have become the equivalent of this town—made of paper, thrown by the wind anywhere but here, with stories of joy and pain written on my skin. 

Right now, it’s all I am: lost.

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A symbol of hope

I LEFT Manila to live and pursue graduate studies in London until the end of 2009, when I joined the over three million Filipinos in the United States. Last year, I watched Manny Pacquiao knock out British boxer Ricky Hatton, at a casino in London amidst a throng of pissed-off British boxing fans.