Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sharing space

THE MOTH bats its wings against the pane of glass. I cup my hands around the dirty grey ribbon of its futile striving. The tiny creature settles on a finger. I move my hands to an opening in the window. When it feels the breeze, the moth leaves the finger and escapes.

We have recently moved in this house. It feels empty, full of old and new things that stand around like actors, waiting for blocking directions. There is little room to maneuver among the memories that fill a house you have lived in. Every pockmark on the wall, every pile of books piled helter-skelter in a corner is just waiting to ensnare you into the past.

No such risk in this house. A dwelling acquired in middle-age is different from the one that welcomed babies and watched them saunter away as adults. At this point in life, you may have felt the twinges of mortality and tire of possessions that crowd you in. So a house that feels empty may just be the place to find some space and quiet.

But I could be wrong. Before the first day was over, the husband and I noticed we were not quite alone. The only humans perhaps but not the only ones sharing space. The birds were the first, the noisiest, and the nosiest to announce this.

A tiny fellow swinging on the wire I first mistook for a speck in the sky until I traced the deep-throated bullhorn calls to it. I have tried to pacify the fellow by reading aloud from Robert Lowell’s “Notebook 1967-68”. But I think neither unrhymed sonnets nor twentieth-century Americana will calm down the General, although he does me the courtesy of letting me finish my recital before commencing another of his commands.

So every day or moment we find ourselves paying more attention. There are enormous ants to rescue from the drains, moths to save from death by befuddlement before a pane of glass, millipedes that wander from the yard to the living room, oblivious to door and slipper. A jumping spider led me on a merry chase in and out of the egg tray, I wondering if the fellow came with the refrigerator or if this was just a webspinner with a yen for the polar.

And the tomcats, of course. A squalling from the yard made me abandon the washing one night. Instead of a murder scene, I saw two white geisha faces turned to me, masks of guilelessness undone by twitching tails. A policy prohibits homeowners from letting pets wander on the streets: dogs, chicken, cattle or Komodo dragon. Cats live by no rules. Or at least, the rules governing us.

When the husband joked about the extraordinary activity of the local wildlife to the village association president, the man recommended pest extermination services. I wonder what the General will pronounce if apprised about the president’s ideas. As a movie suggested, aliens landing in our planet should be subjugated and colonized before they apply these ideas on us. What if we turn out to be the aliens?

Cleaning the yard, I came upon so much detritus: food wrappers, tin cans, twine, paper, rusting nails, cigarette butts, cigarette cartons, a child’s slipper, bits of faux crystal left from an earring, wedges of cement-reinforced plywood, faded shards that, when pulled, turn out to be entrails of plastic buried in the bowels of the earth, Styrofoam decomposing like toxic hail.

Guess who lives here? Clues: Likes plastic and synthetics a lot. Discards a lot. Cares that it is turning its home into a garbage pit, not a lot.

One argument is that other forms of life are opportunists living off our existence. The colony of ants stockpiling the grains of rice that fall from our tables. The birds, cats and rats made fat by the overflowing garbage bins.

We civilize wild life. We ease the old jungle rule for our fellow animals, from the island monkeys who snatch from tourists anything that dangles and is mistaken as food to the whale sharks that fishermen feed so they stay nearshore to delight the tourists.

Perhaps it is this version of sharing space that the General, impervious to poetry, rails against.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 30, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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