Intramuros 3

I will turn 61 in less than three months, and it is quite amazing — this feeling of being released from obligations and desires that drove me crazy — is liberating. At this age, I am carefree in attitude and careless with expectations. Especially social expectations. This is the age it doesn’t matter anymore if I’d get noticed or disrespected or made fun of or rumored or mocked over the things I say or do whether grand or mundane. Who cares? The question after all is, does anyone even pay attention to me?

So, I lingered in Intramuros.

Cavorting with the San Agustin holy ghosts.

Puerto Lucia 1800’s

With Rizal and his El Filibusterismo in my hand, I am nothing but a ghost divining the remnants of the old Manila days. It is good that I am left alone by everyone to my ghostly devices.

I am standing by the side of San Agustin church surveying the area underscoring the modernized houses that line the streets, tourists that step out of buses; I listen to their European language that I could not figure out from which country; I see a young Caucasian sitting on the pavement with eyes squinting against the sun. It must be the heat. I could have said ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ as is the custom of Americans towards strangers. But I ignore him. The tourists see me now as one of the locals, and they are leery of locals approaching for no reason and why should I approach the poor fatigued guy?

My eyes divert their gaze at the church’s parking lot. Emerging from cars are young women in purple gowns, and young men in American coats and ties, all looking so prim, and so dashing. It turns out there is a wedding to begin. I stand by the side of the church’s wooden and ancient doors and observe the wedding party enter the church. I am non-existent to their eyes (or so I think) so I venture inside carelessly. I withdraw to a spot in the back corner, albeit briefly because I am the only one looking like I do — 60 years old wearing active gear like about to run a marathon. I am surprised nobody kicked me out. I know I don’t care but in this big expensive grand event, I catch the eyes of the groom who looks like someone who just graduated from college, maybe Harvard. He could be a son of one of the Manila tycoons. Our eyes lock and he smiles at me. It is a smile of tolerance and acceptance, not one of pride or irritation. But a pleasant stare and smile like this in Manila can also mean something diabolical. It could also mean he sees me as a blot to what is otherwise a perfect gathering. That smile and stare could be a glare warning me to get the f — k out of his party. I bow my head and hastily walk towards the exit.

my old phots of San Agustin (2016)

My feet are directed towards the adjacent old St Augustine monastery that is now converted into a museum. Inside this 15th century church with walls so thick you feel like inside a cave, I sit on one of the benches of its open court that is shaped like a cross.

The Manila Bay took all my afternoon energy. I walked silently in the equally silent halls, this monastery was built in the 17th century with walls as thick as my body with outstretched arms, so thick Manila heat could not penetrate the interior. It is actually cold inside. The statues of saints are in their same poises for more than 400 years.

I sat on the bench facing the open space, I am sure there is an Augustinian word for this bench and space. I imagine the many monks who called this home. Those who lived and died here covered a span of 330 years. It must have been a great comfort to leave arid Spain and settle in tropical Manila. And how many Filipino Indios lived and died without even seeing the inside of this monastery? Some Indios from far flung remote places would not even see the insides of Intramuros. To see what I see now and feel the wind of Manila Bay in a spot that only few have been, is already fulfilling.

The whole day walking and outside heat finally hit me hard. My eyelids start to droop, and I succumb to sleep. But my sleep in my lonely poise isn’t sleep at all, it was me awake in a dream and the dream brings me back to many centuries past. Or maybe I am waxing nostalgic but for some reason I am awake in my dream. I am wearing a black robe, a felt fedora hat, and is this a burning lamp in my hand?

It is quite dark outside; I can hear the whispers of the men who walk the hallway with bowed heads and greeting me in Spanish or is it Latin? I sense we are very familiar with one another, almost intimate, like kids in a boarding school. We must have just finished our dinner or is it the night Vesper or Compline? I hurry to stand from where I am seated and briefly gaze at the night sky. The moon is full and the stars in the skies are bright. I shudder a bit with the cool breeze coming from the bay. I turned around to protect my lamp from the breeze and my feet seem to move on their own, like some force is directing me and I have no control over it.

The walls are the same as the way I saw them earlier, betraying the color gray they used to possess, there is a dark tint as if Spanish moss would soon grow on their surface. Unlike the museum I entered earlier before my dream state, the statues of saints now aren’t housed in one room, but spread thinly throughout the monastery. The liveliness of the halls come from all forms of lit candles and lamps which I am sure would be turned off or would otherwise burn out by themselves. This is a mystery to me, my presence here. Am I living in a dream of someone else or am I that someone else. Who am I now?

Maybe I am John of the Cross but he never crossed the Pacific Ocean. All I know is that most of the monks greet me with a certain reverence, like I am some kind of superior to them, I could be the abbot for all I know. My gait is not bouncy, in fact I feel some pain in my right knee. I walk the hallway towards the door, the vow of silence is now taking over the whole place, a lot of the monks and support staff are withdrawing to their rooms and quarters. Except me.

I rest my lamp on a platform close to the door and instead of locking it with one of the keys hanging from a rope around my waist, I open the massive door. I hear it creaking. I pick up my lamp as I venture outside. I thought I was to turn off the lamps outside the monastery’s doorway but instead I pull the door close and with one of my keys, lock it from outside. Am I taking a walk outside? Is this allowed or am I possessing a privilege due to my seniority?

I don’t know who I am in this dream. I just assume I am one of the monks. I should be, given the looks of the other monks who are mostly Caucasian, I can see a few mestizos and Indios, who are moving about the monastery quiet but lively. The clothing is a giveaway. Most of us wear black robes or cassock investiture, while the Indios are dressed in local white cotton shirts and pants suggesting they are probably the help and caretakers — trust me, I don’t even know how I look. Am I Caucasian too? I am certain I am in a dream world at this time far more ancient than the time I left behind. With the lamp in my left hand and a wooden rosary in my right I walk through the big wooden door like a zombie; I am so well accustomed to this ritual. This is the same door I entered in the year 2023 a few hours ago. Something is really weird. Especially when I am approached by another monk in Spanish and I respond in Castilian, a language that had vanished from Manila a long time ago.

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