When I got up at 4:30 this morning, Rob was sitting on the floor, in front of the bedroom door, aka the spot in our room with the best internet connection. He smiled at me, put down the computer, and without a word slipped in next to me for a cuddle session. There we were, a couple in love, spooning and kissing and being all kinds of PG-cute, and when Riley started fussing, we smiled in that exasperated but blissful way: Oh, these, problems – like having a make-out session interrupted by your gorgeous, healthy baby. They’re great problems to have.
We rocked Riley to sleep, then, cradling him like a newborn, placed his 2 1/2-foot frame of front hand-spring-loving joy into bed with us. Our new kitten, Rory, purred as she placed herself in the middle of our little love knot. And that’s how we were for two hours: A tangle of legs and arms, fur and feet, sniffles and coughs, soothing each other simply by being next to each other.
Two hours later, as light snoring was drifting from the bed, I slowly extracted myself from the weave of slumbering bodies and waited on the balcony for a man on a bicycle to show up with freshly baked bread. Sure enough, the familiar goose-like squawk of his horn signaled pandesal, and as I met him in front of our house and the smell of bread hit me, I felt certain there was no better way to start the day. I took my soft and warm purchase to the side of our property, took down a bunch of bananas from the tree that hangs its fruit so generously on our side of the wall, placed the bread and bananas on the dining room table, and then took a leisurely stroll to the wet market to purchase fresh eggs.
Along the way, everyone smiled at me. It’s hard to remember a time when this wasn’t true (even in New York, I have a way of getting strangers to smile at me). But here, where literally everyone within the city is likely to be related to me, the feeling is different. There’s no telling what anyone knows about me and my family, so the feeling is more intimate. Personal. Immediate. There is a different sort of urgency in the air here. It’s not the kind that inspires people to change for the future; it’s the kind that prepares you for an onslaught of events that are about to begin right now. It’s not so much a grand motivator, but a reason for constant adrenaline to flow. You’re kept on your toes because anything – a shooting, a stabbing, a steady stream of stray dogs, a marching band, a procession of drag queens – could happen.
The wet market, with its bustle of housewives buying the day’s groceries, sprang into existence before me, a swirling sea of cacophony. Haggling took place at every stall – “No, not ten pesos!” “Oh, c’mon, how about an even 15 pesos?” “I’m sorry, ma’am, that’s the lowest I’ll go.” – only in Tagalog, and I deftly maneuvered to the familiar stalls for chicken, vegetables, eggs and fruit. I picked and prodded and poked at the produce. I took note of the prices and compared them to the prices from the day before.
And when I went home, to my baby and my boyfriend, and I lay our food on the table, and readied myself for the stroll our family takes every morning, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded me.
Today, like every other day, we’ll pass several dozen houses as we walk, and people will call out to us and wave hello and pat Riley on the head and tell him how cute he is. Cousins and aunts and uncles who are three-generations removed and distant in relation will talk to us about what’s happened in the 24 hours since we’ve last spoken. We’ll point at stray dogs and cats and tropical flowers and gorgeous fresh fruit, and buy fresh pastries and delicacies, and then go home and bathe the smog and sweat away. And then we’ll clean up the house and play with our dogs and cats, and I’ll plant seeds for squash and tend to my mom’s orchids, and we’ll collapse into a heap of laughter in the backyard before coming inside to enjoy fresh calamansi juice and Dr. Seuss. Somehow, I’ll pry myself away from my family and write for several hours, and check my email, and then study nursing theory.
And all the while, we’ll be here, in a place that I’ve known for less than a year, in this land that believes in a God I can’t put my faith in. We’ll be here, on this amazing and gorgeous island that shaped my parents and Rob’s parents, and by extension, us, too.
We’ll be here.
For how long? I don’t know.
But it sure does feel like home.