Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mission possible

THIS CITY’S best-kept secret is its sidewalks.

A good way to discover them is to walk, instead of ride, to places.

Last week, officially the start of summer classes in our college, I walked to work. To cross the Mactan channel, I commuted by Vhire.

From the Vhire terminal in the North Reclamation Area (NRA), I walked to the campus in Lahug. I don’t know how many kilometers that is. The first day, though, I took exactly a minute short of an hour after hitting the streets near the pier to step inside the faculty room. The second day, I needed 43 minutes to connect from the NRA to Lahug, even though I slowed down thrice.

The first time was to put some distance between me and two youths whose loud yapping and sharp wolfish stares I didn’t trust. I slowed down again to trail after graveyard shift workers just released from work. Dressed in dark thick clothes, they seemed to be sleepwalking on their way to nowhere.

The third time was to allow a fellow to make up his mind about the direction he was going to take in the sidewalk we shared. His vacant young face didn’t send alarms clanging inside my brain. He did have an unzipped fly. And while I am not above bragging about my walking, I cannot say the same for my skills in wrestling.

When I looked back, the fellow was now joined by a gaunt, hungry-looking mongrel in contemplating his open fly.

These interruptions were nothing compared to the struggle I waged the minute I woke up and left the house. It’s too hot to walk. Only crazy people and dogs can be found on the streets. I have to finish something at work. Cebu doesn’t have sidewalks. Am I crazy?

It’s weird how it always looks too hot and dangerous outside when you’re indoors. Yet, when you step out and wince at the pressure that palpably bears down on your head or eyes, that’s about the last occasion for reasonably whining about this “hot” country.

Walking early in the morning is not as great as walking at sundown, except no twilight spectacle can shame the softness of an early morning breeze.

A morning person, I like being able to see where I am going. And there’s a lot to see when you walk when the streets are still empty of people who cling to last night’s dreams evaporating in the slow simmer of summer.

Dogs are morning creatures, too. While I’ve seen cats, the ones I’ve passed had the air of husbands slinking back home after a night of caterwauling.

On the other hand, neighborhood dogs usually cluster in companionable groups, sniffing each other or the variegated packages they drop helter-skelter on the path. When I step aside to avoid another steaming trap, the pooch grins at me, as if to say: Hey! Where’s the rascal that left this behind for you?

Realizing how a dog is a paragon of loyalty in a world of shifting allegiances—dogs never forget a scent—I’d like to “see” the streets as a dog does. Humans, poor creatures, rush from work to more work, like chickens that forgot where they left their heads.

A dog’s nose, though, excavates worlds and galaxies in the least likely crannies. A walk for them is not just a walk. By this distinction, it’s not hard to guess who knows the streets better.

Or discovers there are sidewalks after all. Sometimes, these are hidden under a bed of scales and the briny, metallic smell of spilled fish guts and a distant, invisible sea. The makeshift wet markets that appear in the evening to serve workers returning home still linger on in the streets long after the sun is up and last night’s dinner is lost in the sludge of memory.

Some sidewalks are blessed by trees, ancient and still among the most beautiful of Cebu’s underappreciated virtues. For all the garbage spilling on sidewalks and humanity pressing from shanty, enclave and street, Nature’s canopies in gemlike luster can still be spotted among the pinnacles, billboards and flyovers cutting up the skies above the city.

For this benediction, I am glad to be as crazy as dogs after all. Rediscovery—of the city one calls home, of communion with dogs, of one’s own legs—is the reason why walking always does it for me.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 15, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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