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joanna carlos
joanna carlos IF THIS isn't what you expected, thinking that I'd elaborate on rich and poor, know that this isn't about that.

I had literally been with those sorts all throughout my life, but their material wealth became much more pronounced when I entered elite places or when I went to high per capita income cities in the Philippines and I was not so innocent as to think that this entire country was marred by a warring between distinct worlds of rich and poor (that was clumsy and ugly) but I noticed something. It's a lie to tell you I could not place my finger on it, for I bet my life on the thrill of discovery: an idea about nobility and whether or not the meek would inherit the earth. Biblical references aside, I did not think, too, of taking sides, for I was born to a society that could neither own a city or a shanty; keeping it real, I knew that these things were not absolute yet they caught my eye, and became one of the realizations that affected me not so much because I was involved in them, or even because of not being involved at all but moved partly because I do not know for sure what I am. Perhaps. Looking at two people warring from opposite factions sometimes only really just made you feel like the third person.

When I was in elementary, I thought that we were the richest family in the world, richer than movie stars. Bill Gates was a multi-billionaire because of computers, I was rich because it felt like it, which was more than anyone could imagine. I'd think this most often when I passed by the large black piano and when that sentence formed for the first time, I had been facing the blue sofa with by head bent down trying to think of the next thing to do.

I was a senior in high school, I lost SR 500 on the couch and never told anyone, I was mortified. The bell rang. It was Krystalle "Peejay" and we were going to solicit funds for our Olympics uniforms. The Mini-Olympics was the big thing in our school and I felt the compounded pressure in what we two wanderers were involved in: money, we had to ask for donations from benevolent individuals. She had the earnest, mature expression she always wore that always won over adults by her being somewhat of a prize daughter and I felt the quick succession of loss and gain, enough to forget. I did not stare too long wonderstruck yet I was briefly surprised by the visit. After a few quick greetings we were off towards their car some yards away from our E3-1 building and I embraced the knowledge that this was just another adventure on my list, another day to live and calmly breathe in all without care. The night was exceptionally chilly – the most precise winter I could remember considering the placid blackness of the night – and I wrapped my abaya around me and felt uncharacteristically nervous. Krystalle and I weren't close but we were acquaintances and Loyalty awardees, our families knew each other for a long time, neighbors in KFUH Site I compound too. I had to face her eventually; she knew me as a joker and I fell in the security that I need not say anything – there was nothing to prove. The looming task ahead seemed very far off, I remembered the comfort of a car blustering to life, heavy silence and the almost-tangible weather. She was a surprise that night when I lost all face to tell anyone that SR 500 was missing and the heavenly good cause was totally eclipsed by the joy involved in riding a car on a school night for such a long distance, intrusion into OFW families' homes, and doing nothing while she did all the talking.

I looked like a rabbit in headlights each house we invited ourselves into. The OFWs were privileged and had the usual appliances and decorations hung on their painted walls or faux fireplaces, heaters and hat and umbrella stands near archways. I looked on to them in mute stupefaction and my theory that we were rich was disappointingly enough not really surfacing but I formed the impression that they, too, were rich. I left rather shaken from each house as though I were an evil spirit making daily rounds. Whatever I really felt about nobility would mutate within me.

I thought instead of the incredible sense of destruction that I was vibrating simply by being there, soliciting money for our Mini-Olympics, I who had nothing to say because I was letting Krystalle do the talking and besides, it's not like I wasn't being turned inside out. As always, being outdoors wore me out, I wanted to go home through the middle of it, half ran to the parked car at a smoky street after leaving our last donor who for some reason proved most magnanimous of all, bidding us farewell with much cheek.

Conversation possibilities about the whole thing proved promising the next day. We were richer by the thousands but no one really knew how it all happened. Winning the school Olympics, avoiding being run over by the racers while you passed the hall or playing amateur badminton were more important. The festive food from the cafeteria during the 3-day event made one forget how we got all that money, many things made me forget about it entirely until now, now that losing and finding money were important if I had to know myself.

The spell of my outward social life didn't fade that night – thankfully enough – and it lasted until we rode in silence towards home, with so much money I couldn't believe it, some were giving dollars. It felt like winter when we scoured for funds together. When I was in Manila, I had my own bank account. The intense heat drove me to get up and walk all the way to the grocers' for a pint of ice cream which I bought in bulk so I had some for my companions as well. On the bread counters were items which I sometimes got just for the sake of it, and sometime later, I spotted Raissa who was there part-time as some promo saleslady decked in the green of my birthplace flag. I felt a flash of ill-feeling; I should have just gotten into Jollibee then, so there'd be something that didn't make people sad that I was just an artist. The rain sometimes made me deal with strangers, like the pouring water washed away any traces of shyness in us and brought us together under an umbrella. No wait, we barely touched, I only knew the water, nothing really happened besides an exchange of a few words. I attached meaning to it, I attached meaning to myself.

If ever there's anything that I started thinking about now that I am where I am now, it's only because I strive for significance in my life. I do not look back to that wintry night because I championed the good cause, I was not in Manila to fight the good fight. I'm where I am now because this is where my lifestyle guided me, I zigzagged and ducked under ladders or bumped into people not to get through the day, but because you don't know where you're headed yet, and since you're not what you are yet, you go through all the stages not knowing that you're becoming the inevitable you, the sometime person you were meant to be.

All that Muslim monarchy life quirks got the better of me and my permanent residency in the Philippines didn't feel like when we were just taking vacations. Never again will the recklessness of youth be repeated, and whatever freedom is now enjoyed is a different taste of freedom, inseparable from age and unfree of attachment. The people I got to be with in my future were complete strangers and they reflected the kind of demotion that I felt when I first stepped into my native land, I was used to flashier, stronger personalities. But they were more well-off though they seemed to disregard it, and they were very well-mannered which was another reflection this time, of the academic, wealthy clans from Saudi. But there are no comparisons; in a sense, rich people from the Philippines were richer because the country was poor. The war was starting but it was only in my head, the gun shots had been forming for a while. Whatever real opinions I have of the nobility in Ateneo will have its own day; still my submissions were shying away from brazenness, appearing to everyone who didn't know for certain like desecration. Someone as real as me would get it.

Whatever opinion I have of the rich and poor: sometimes they're both the same to me, they're both people with skin and bones who avoid each other like the plague and when they were so far off from each other, we gave them names, we gave ourselves order and not an ounce of wisdom. I will not attempt philosophizing now, but I saw something big enough for me to call a hemisphere in my existence, tied to my monied past, spotted on ukay-ukay ballet flats, confirmed by my own clique-ness and experienced when anyone, from any walk of life, talked to me. That's it, rich and poor all over the universe dance around my head sewing together patches of my memories. It's such an old story. They're human beings.

Something changed in me years ago and it wasn't the Big Move; I'm not them, I'm me without ever becoming me. Something that I find real, somewhere I'm going that matters, holding on to a moment in time when you were so happy, defining your existence with the little things because that's all that ever really made you happy. I hear people nowadays singing songs to desecrate what I hold infinite, because it doesn't seem to make much of a difference and I want to be God's angel washing them all out with a sword made of heavenly rays, just fighting what I think is wrong or fighting because it's cool to fight. Because sometimes that happens. Because I'll have to take sides in God's war, I want to be there like a girl with a taste for battle, not fighting the good fight, but probably – after everyone – because I want to be good and that's what I know about war.

[About the author. Joanna Carlos considers herself Kapampangan, having grown up in an atmosphere in which the dialect was distributed freely among locals and expatriates here and abroad; thereby she ingested it like the smell of dying sampaguitas, the sound of cicadas by moonlight, and the sight of lanterns, ablaze in the sun, that decorate the city. She is dedicated and compassionate, and is interested in many things. After leaving the KSA, she has then immersed herself in the folkloric society of Pampanga. Joan is kindhearted and generous. Yet she has her pet peeves, her Lilith moments, so don't be a "cold-hearted capitalist" and irritate her, because even then you wouldn't realize who you are up against. Her writing was honed throughout the years and so has she. Joanna, then, is an amalgam of the child and the present, accepting, just..]

-Posted: 7:00 PM 6/10/15 | More of this author on eK!