About three years ago, on my first trip home from Davao City where I was studying, Isulan actually felt like home for the first time. Funnily enough, I took a picture of the Roundball as soon as I stepped out of the van, and that was also another first. The Roundball wasn’t a grand architectural feat or anything like that at all—it’s just a roundabout—it looked rugged and unkempt. For something that has stood there for as long as I can remember, it’s anything but new. It did, however, remind me that I was home. Something inside me wanted to immortalize that moment. Perhaps it was the feeling of home, of warmth, that I wanted to carry back to college. Or maybe it was just an impulse.
I took a stroll on the empty highway—it was eight o’clock in the evening. The dust in the air stung my eyes and filled my lungs as I kept on looking and walking around streets and buildings that I would have overlooked if it had been any other moment than that. A couple of minutes later, I reached the old market, the palengke, and I noticed that a statue of a golden eagle has been erected in front of an old bakery, barbecue stalls with disco lights lined the pathway, street lights were no longer flickering, tarpaulins and colorful banners of politicians flitted by the warm evening wind. The moon seemed to project a vague film on the concrete, the stars hummed, and street dogs sang. Were all of these like this before? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. It was all too surreal.
Today, after being caged here for more than a year, it’s safe to say that I have again forgotten what that feeling is like, and my indifference has long been revived. Isulan, a town of ninety-thousand in the province of Sultan Kudarat, has become synonymous with indifference. It’s in the streets, the dusty wind, the people. Nobody cared about politics, nobody cared about the literary works that won a Palanca, and it seemed like nobody cared about the pandemic. A quick motorcycle ride to Kalawag 2 St. and dozens of people walking around with no face mask on is a recurring sight. All these people exuded an air of arrogance, and some just downright neglect. It’s impossible to know what these people cared about. Other than themselves, it’s already a stretch to assume that they cared about anything else. This would have been a good time for the presence of a police officer, but they didn’t care enough either about the people in the narrow streets; they only seemed to care about those on the highways, in the middle of the bustling economic center, those in the sentro.
There used to be only one milk tea shop in all of Isulan, and that was in the sentro. Now, there are more than a dozen in every street and corner. I always wondered if business owners in Isulan were just envious of other people’s businesses, or if they never had an original business idea all their lives. Lechon manok stalls too; every time I turn my head, I find one. God, nobody cared about originality in this place. And don’t get me started on banana cue vendors. Everything here seems the same, everyone just copies everyone else. The clothes they wear, the things they post all adhere to what is uso, or what’s trending—which milk tea shop has the most “aesthetic” interior design, making it the most uso at the moment. It makes me sick.
Early morning is probably my favorite time of the day, at least before classes started. I would usually ride my bike by then, which seemed to clear my head. Exercise did help my mental health to stabilize, but what I actually sought for was the sunrise. The sun always looked different whenever the landscape changed. My favorite route is on Kudanding—the farmland on the outskirts of Isulan. I remember the first time I dared to even ride there. The cemented road was narrow, various bushes and flowers paved the side, a bit farther ahead on the horizon rice paddy fields stretched for over a kilometer. Then I slowed down my pace, something inside me said to wait patiently for the sun to show its new story of light and brightness and hope. Faint yellow-orange strings of light broke through, slowly turning into a thick blanket smothering the field in its amber radiance, the morning dew crystallized into exquisite gems, and the mist retreated as it gave reverence to the almighty sun. I watched for a bit longer, still trying to balance myself on the bike. And then it was over. I made a U-turn and pedalled as fast as I can. I had to return home; the sun can burn if I basked in it for too long.
I know, however, that the sun would turn gray in my eyes eventually. So I try to restrict my bike rides there. Time is a thief, and the more time I spend enjoying something, the sooner I become indifferent. I barely know what I like anymore, and I feel lost. I feel lost in a place where I have lived my whole life, and yet that moment of just looking at the sunrise on a bike ride has made my indifference lift, even for just a moment. Maybe one of these days, the Roundball might make me feel something again, but I wouldn’t count on it.
David Madriaga is taking up BA English-Creative Writing in the University of the Philippines Mindanao.
Photo Credit: https://www.soxph.com/2017/08/hamungaya-festival.html