DECEMBER is sweltering like mid-May.
Along General Maxilom ave., passengers and motorists squinted as the sun gradually descended behind the Christmas tree at Fuente Osmeña Circle. From where I stood—in the middle of the street near a food mart waiting for the perfect time to jaywalk—the unlit Christmas tree looked foreboding, even apocalyptic—the late afternoon sun looming behind it.
With the dissonance of the road congestion, it would be surprising if the pedestrians and motorists even notice it.
What we can easily notice, however, are the subtle changes, because Cebu is the city that welcomes December even before it arrives. The bookstore near my workplace had been displaying Christmas trees and ornaments long before Halloween. The carollers serenaded jeepney passengers with “O, ang pasko ay kay saya kon ikay kapiling na,” or “pasko na naman o kay tulin ng araw,” for coins as early as September. The jack of all trades at work hung the lanterns and lights on the talisay trees. The janitor at the mall fixed his Santa hat before pushing his cart again. A gimcrack sign Christmas Sale is present in almost all shops’ glass walls to lure the 13th -month bonus receivers.
The street vendors in Carbon started making cheap Christmas paper bags on humid October afternoons. The fruit vendors wiped and arranged more round fruits. A man sauntered the streets with heaps of lanterns hung on a pole over his shoulder. Lights glittered above the doorway of a new bookshop downtown, La Belle Aurore, which opened days shy of December.
But Christmas throbs at night.
At Basilica del Sto. Niño, the moment the priest signaled himaya didto sa langit, all Christmas lights lit up as the upbeat tune of this religious hymn started. The luminance momentarily wowed churchgoers, rendering them a second late in singing the first line. Indeed, gleaming, the lights looked hopeful. Vibrant poinsettias circled the white Christmas tree. Trails of white stars in varied shapes were hung on the left wall of the church façade. While half-attuned to the mass and to the crooning, some sneakily took pictures of the Christmas tree—a tree all made of white stars. It looks interesting both night and day.
On the contrary, under the maddening heat, the Christmas tree at Fuente Osmeña Circle looks languid. But it transforms—it radiates with life at night. Of course, getting to the island always takes courage—because the traffic flow never seems to ebb. The roundabout looks notorious when I see it from the jeepney or from Robinson’s overpass.
But once I was in it, that feeling disappeared.
Perhaps December makes it humane. It has kids. It has kids looking at the Christmas tree. It has kids playing with puffer balls, magic wands, mechanical birds. It has parents looking at their kids looking at the Christmas tree. It has lovers sitting on the benches distancing themselves from the families gathering by the tree.
It is the crowd drawn by the lights that makes Fuente Circle tender.
Colon: Life Goes On
But nothing can be more crowded than Colon. December weekends in Colon burst with people: shoppers coming in empty-handed and going out with a bag or two, hagglers negotiating with the boutique or the cell phone shop staff.
But amid this tide of December pedestrians are the resident faces of Colon: locksmiths eating lunch with the keys almost touching their nose, whetters yawning while scraping their scruff off; sim card sellers yelling “tag-baynte ra! Sim card, ma’am, sir”; a young man burning Rihanna and Lady Gaga songs on a CD; clerks at jewelry shops looking bored; men asking pedestrians “ID, ma’am?”; Muslim girls arranging their socks only to be rummaged by curious passersby; a shoe repairman smiling to his reflection on the shoe.
For them, December is just another month at looking at the pedestrian’s eyes, hoping he has lost his key, hoping her nipper has dulled from too much use, or hoping his shoes need resoling.
In earlier months, late-night Colon emits insipidness with nothing but passengers drained from the day’s work and occasional hookers in dim corners. Since mid-November however, pirated DVD sellers have their goods laid out ‘til midnight. And the street on the left of Metro Colon is closed for the night of pungko-pungko, tanan-tag-baynte shops, socks and slippers sold by beautiful Muslim girls from Marawi. Colon in December thrives on haggling and being haggled.
Mango Avenue Madness
Whereas Colon at night thrives on haggling, Mango burns with five-inch wedges, Korean fashion, thick eye shadow, red lipstick.
Whereas daytime pedestrians wear flat shoes and often cross the street in haste, the lanes become an instant runway at night. Together with this deceiving pleasantness, the familiar residents seem to multiply too.
“Pardon me for the word, pero nganong managhan man ang yagit kon December na? Asa mani sila gikan?” a friend posted on Facebook. And I could not help but agree. It seems like there are more kids around Mango—more kids with the alertness of thieves in their eyes surrounding groups of Koreans, more mothers bringing their infants with their hands extended open, more women throwing up on the street, more gay prostitutes chasing after male foreigners, more Koreans running after kids who robbed them, and during daytime, more men selling Cialis to senior Westerners, more mothers nudging their kids to beg.
Mango is one of the places in the city where stories can easily be found. It being iniquitous is what makes it storied and thrilling.
And I cannot help but entertain the thoughts—what if Mango, alongside Colon, receives love letters from strangers on Christmas?
How will a veteran hooker, whom I always smile to every time I pass by Mango from work, read a love letter—will she laugh her heart out with the absurdity of the act or will she tuck her hair behind her ears like a teenager? How about Fuente’s balot vendor? Will he read it while a customer peels off the shell or will he wait until nobody is around? How about the mother with her baby? How about the kids?
Can the love letter spark something unnameable in their beings fraught with fear and hunger?
*To be part of the “Christmas Gift: A Love Letter to a Stranger”project, kindly like its Facebook page (facebook.com/christmasgiftloveletters) and check the instructions on its wall. For more of Jona Branzuela Bering’s adventures, log on to backpackingwithabook.com
Published on Sun.Star Cebu | December 20, 2012