Father owned a sepia-colored (or at least that’s how I remembered it) 1977 Yamaha motorcycle. The color amber splashed on the gas tank, silver on the body and black all over the saddle.That was the first family motorcycle. And for posterity, Father with his sideburns and mustache and I with my bald one-year old head, posed for what I believed was our (Father, me and the motorcycle) first picture together.
It was probably a summer day. There was no hint of clouds in the sky and dead leaves carpeted the foreground. I can still retrace the exact spot where the picture was taken because behind whoever took that photo was a store. The shopkeepers were Grandmother’s tenant. They owned a pet monkey and secured the primate on a bamboo pole that ran above the backdoor until the breadfruit tree five meters away. In a string of bad luck, the monkey grabbed my hair and shook my head for what was like eternity, shaking my head like how a farmhand checks a coconut for water. I was traumatized forever.
Going back to the photo, it was taken in Grandmother’s front yard (in the house she worked so hard to acquire) facing the post-war town square. My family lived on the second floor of Grandmother’s big house with equally big capiz windows that emptied into the vacant lot across the road. The wooden coffee and mocha-colored hardwood planks that stretched from the front door until the comidor separated us from Grandmother who lived downstairs behind her sari-sari store (but I love to call it the big candy store for the rows of big garapon of candies that sat in the front area).
In the background of that photo was the church with its inverted letter “v” protruding tower anchored in the middle. A line of skinny mahogany framed us from both sides. Between the mahogany and that spot where we posed was the national highway that cut the interior of the island. By the time my milk teeth were gone, I had already covered the length of that bumpy 78-kilometer drive on the highway, end to end, from the dusty town to the sleepy city.
|yes, this is 1 year-old me! one of the few photos saved after super typhoon Nitang destroyed the family home in 1984|
The motorcycle was attached to Father and it was probably his best friend. He worked for the government and travel within town was part of his job description. Grandmother owned a small parcel of rice paddies outside of town, at the edge of a vast plain. During the early part of planting and harvesting, Father tagged me along for sunset rides. During those rare occasions, we would sleepover at the nipa hut after mouse traps have been properly secured or simply to stand guard for the humay. By the time a hint of sunlight crawled in the horizon, we would pack up and be back at home just in time for breakfast with Mother and my three other siblings. And because such sleepovers came few and far between in a span of a year, I would always look forward to those trips with a firm resolve never to allow again the swarm of insects from getting into my eyes during the night drive.
I had grown fond of riding the motorcycle. Intensely fond that I’d incessantly cry whenever Father did not allow me to jump in the saddle whenever I was home and he was on his way to work or check on the farm. The sound of the crank shaft was my hint. Any sound of it made my soul jump out of my body and in a jiffy, I was already an arm’s reach near the motorcycle. But at times, Father used a few tricks. He would escort the motor a few meters away from the house and kick-start from there, away from my hearing the sound of the running engine.
|the wedding photo of my parents that found its way to England, archived by Aunt Tess Longley all these years|
In small town standards, each working class household owned a motorcycle and kids learning how to drive before their puberty was a birthright. One Saturday afternoon, Father finally taught me how to drive. Weeks prior though, to my excitement, I taught myself how to kick-start the engine and control the accelerator. By the second week, I already drove next town a relative who came by to visit for the summer. By the time I got my drivers’ license, I had outgrown the commute, so I occassionally drove myself back to town on a DT Yamaha of Brother.
Inside my head, nothing much had changed in the scenery thirty years after that picture was taken. The same church sans the trees. The same clear blue skies but now with a park and a whitewashed house under it. Beyond the borders of that photo, practically the same number of bridges, hills and street corners would greet me along the national highway. Except that the roads now are well-paved and that this time, it will be my hands on the grip and the little version of me snugged on top the gas tank, his arms barely reaching the rod in front , those tiny hands tightly gripping it while his legs dangle between the engine.