Our loving ways by Edilberto Alegre
"Mahal kita, mahal kita, hindi ito bola."
The phrase is the first verse line of a song which was written by a teenager, so said a DJ of the time, in the early 1970s. That's some three decades ago. And yet we still hear it played on the radio, especially around this time of the year.
The line literally means "I love you, I love you, I am not joking." Bola means ball, as in basketball. To "make bola," a patent and peculiar English Tagalog statement, derives from Tagalog: e.g. Binobola mo lang ako, which implies saying untruths but in such a charming manner that what the speaker says appear to be true. It's related to "binibilog ang ulo," literally making a head round -- bola (ball) and bilog (circle) have the same shape round. It remotely recalls "drawing circles" around someone.
To make the title of this section sound closer to English, then: "Seriously, I love you." That deflates the statement though, since the translation is bereft of all that affection in a Pinoy's wooing of a woman. Affection and the lightness of language -- for she, if Pinoy, too, knows he can just be saying it but not truly meaning it, so he enjoins her at the end of the line plaintively: do believe me, hindi ito bola, seriously, peks man, cross my heart and hope to die.
Deep down the Pinoy knows words are just that -- words. Sounds articulated by the vocal cords. Nice to say, good to hear. They need not always carry the weight of truth. And we're adept at manipulating them. It's a cultural attitude to language. We're not supposed to believe everything we hear.
Verbal meaning is kahulugan. The root word is hulog which means "fall" (nahulog sa hagdan -- (s)he fell down the stairs) primarily and "partial" (hulugan -- installment) secondarily. So there are always implications and nuances and the truth is more in them than in the words themselves. So, the bearer must be assured by the speaker -- Hindi ito bola.
Oral speech especially is, then, a game. Politicians are masters of the game. Quezon and Marcos were acknowledged orators who exhibited their genius for bola in public fora here and abroad.
Love in the oral level is a game. There is the pursuer and the pursued. And there are the arrows of words to slay the wooed into belief. Even in the written certainly, the attitude to language is the same. No wonder then that the perennial best-seller continues to be a thin book of samples of loveletters. In Tagalog, that is.
Where is the truth of the loving, then? In the acts of loving, in the action of love -- especially those which are not meretricious; those which do not advertise the feeling of love and loving behind the act and actions. Wala sa salita; nasa gawa. Not in the words but in the actions.
How does one show na hindi ito bola? There is a cultural context to it, of course. As red roses in the west. There's the gift giving, too. But traditionally it's pasalubong -- bringing someone a gift since (s)he was not there when the giver was. A gift to show that one remembered. Valentine's Day is a foreign idea which has not yet seeped into our traditional cultures.
But let me dwell on it a bit. Red is the emblem of the heart (so very bloody, though!), as roses should be red if one wishes to get across love as the message of the giving. This one day even old people won't feel corny wearing red shirts or red skirt. I know, in fact, a few who have Valentine's Day attire which they take out only once a year.
In the 1970s there was this red-and-white taxi named Alfredo's. On that one day, riders who wore red or red-and-white were entitled to a 50% discount. See, how far we can go! Luneta (national park) in those times bloomed in red. That one crazy day!
They are not that crazy in Japan. Primarily it's because the culture which Valentine's Day still tries to penetrate does not possess the articulate meretriciousness of ours. Theirs is an oppressed society -- oppressed by feudalism which continues to fuel it. Their extreme behavior on this day consists of a mild reversal of roles, namely, the girls can gift the boys with chocolates to express their feelings. And that's confined to the young. Just the young.
Let me contrast that with a story here in Tacloban, Leyte (Eastern Visayas). A couple who had been married for almost three decades had seven children between them. On Valentine's Day morning, the husband forgot to greet his wife. She let it pass. In the evening he came home a bit tipsy. He had forgotten completely that it was Valentine's Day. When he was changing his clothes she threw her slippers at him. Love and loving we expect even after decades of togetherness.
HINDI ITO BOLA
These are stories from my hometown, Victoria in the province of Tarlac (Central Luzon). True-to-life love stories. There are many such stories there.
The first has to do with the parents of my closest friend, Ely. His father, Apo Sinti, was taciturn. Ely feared him. He knew he could whip a guava branch to pulp on an offending son's butt. During his entire life Ely remembers only one event -- the father made a top for him using only a bolo (sword). He does not remember him talking to him at all.
In contrast, the mother -- Apo La Paz -- was always talking. They had a huge house on our Calle Real (now Rizal St.) and they had always a slew of maids. She inherited quite a large mass of riceland so she was used to ordering people about.
Apo Sinti found eating at the family table a bother. Perhaps he could not stand Apo La Paz's incessant yakking which became worse during meals. So, Apo Sinti had his special table in the kitchen. A rather small one. He always ate ahead of everybody. Apo La Paz herself, not a maid, would set the table. Then she'd have him called.
He'd come, sit down, and eat silently. She'd be bustling in the kitchen -- checking the food a-cooking on the stoves, the setting of their huge family table, the gradual filling up of the dining room with people, food, and the drinks and sweets which were on another table ready for serving.
During all this she would check on Apo Sinti -- saw to his glass of iced water which had to be replenished always, and the banana which was his preferred fruit. They did not speak with each other. He ate all that was served him. She knew exactly how much rice he ate and what viands he preferred and how much of these he consumed.
Then as silently as he came in, he'd leave. Apo La Paz would then call one of the maids to clean the table and place it in one corner of the kitchen.
One Sunday morning, Apo Sinti staggered to a traysikad, a bicycle with a side car, even before the mass ended in our one Catholic Church proximate to the town plaza. He didn't make it back to their house. He had a heart attack.
Apo La Paz cried, but she didn't wail. She saw to all the funeral arrangements. She was the overseer of the wake. After the funeral she retired to her room. She had to be called for the family meals. She receded into silence.
After a month, she died.
The second story, has to do with the old couple across our house. I don't remember their names. They were a very quiet, self-contained husband-and-wife. They married late, it seems. Their only child was a loquacious tall male who since childhood manifested strong signs of effeminateness.
The son was away for high school. And then a terribly extended medical schooling. They didn't seem to mind. The old man hardly went out of the house. The old woman we hardly saw. All that I remember of them is her standing around as he watered the many plants their son loved. Their yard was a veritable garden.
Every few days a young boy would sweep the yard. The old couple would be seated in their veranda. I have no recollection of their voices. But they did talk with each other. I could see them from our own second-floor veranda.
One day the old man fell ill. The young boy called my father, who was a medical doctor. My father said it was serious. After three days he died. The effeminate son came back and made quite a scene in his wailing and flailing about. He returned to his medical school after the funeral.
We only got news of the old woman from the young boy who stayed with her. He was the son of one of their tenants. He said that she refused to go out of her room. He served her her meals there. She receded into silence.
After two weeks, she died.
These two old couples remind me of a Guy de Maupassant short story. A hunter shot a bird. The other bird, its mate obviously, circled around it. It refused to leave. It kept going around the spot where the first bird fell. Gradually it went down, still moving in circles. It was as if it wanted to be shot, too. The hunter aimed at it and killed it.
They remind me, too, of an old Indian myth. In the beginning, Man and Woman were one. Somehow they got separated. The Man went to the right. The Woman went to the left. They had been looking for each other since then.
Love or, I suppose, marriage in the myth is the discovery of our other half. The Man and the Woman become one again. We go through life looking for our other half, that which would complete us. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes not. If we don't then we go through another cycle of life, another cycle of searching. Life is a quest for completion by way of finding the Man or Woman who is our lost other half.
In our culture we call this completion of self love.