It’s nine in the morning on a Saturday. I look out the window, and from this room high up over the city, I can discern the geometry of the neighborhood. The streets in this district are laid out in a pattern slightly more elaborate than the basic grid, and in addition to the usual rectangular blocks of houses and buildings, there are also triangular lots and five-way crossroads.
From my vantage point, I can see people walking, small like ants, going down slowly along the streets and avenues named after dead people about whom most still-alive people don’t know anything about. I watch them for a few moments, and then I get impatient at their glacial pace. I get bored, and I get distracted. My attention shifts, involuntarily, to another shape moving down on another street. It’s moving with more speed, and its outline is a little larger—it’s a person mounted on a kind of vehicle. It gets closer and I see that the vehicle is a bicycle.
Whenever I spot these cyclists, I’d watch them more closely than any other kind of road user I spy from this window. If their route happens to take them closer to me, sometimes I can see them clearly enough—their clothes, the form of their bikes—to make out whether they’re cycling because they need to get somewhere, or if they’re doing it just for fun. I wonder, briefly, if sometime soon I might get a job in some place where I can have the choice to try out bike commuting. And then I think of going out on an adventure again with my road bike, to climb the mountains to the east of the city. I haven’t been able to do that for quite a while now.
It’s May in Manila, which means the weather is again suffering an identity crisis. Sometimes, it still acts like the summer of April with its hellish heat and sweaty evenings. Other times, it pretends to be the monsoon of August, happy to dump intense rain showers on anxious commuters. And then, before it gets predictable, it brings out the thunderclouds, seeking my attention with flash and noise, making sure to interrupt my afternoon trains of thought.
Right now, the weather is content to cover the sky with clouds, withholding the rain, perhaps conserving water for later use. The picture outside the window is low-contrast, washed out. It’s a ghostly white—or is it more like gray? I wonder what the people in the neighborhood are doing under their own roofs. Someone is probably chopping onions and garlic in the kitchen for some hearty lunch. At the commercial rows, in one of those glass-fronted coffee shops, someone could be ordering a fruity slice of cheesecake to go with their latté, with oat milk please, thank you.
I’m thinking of what I could do today instead of staying here. I could take the train, to another city across the metro, walk anonymously around in one of those posh malls with nice gardens, watch people, see someone actually order cheesecake and coffee. I’d take my own seat, sip my own cup of lactose-intolerant-friendly beverage, and read a short story or two from that Alice Munro collection I’ve yet to finish.
That would be nice. It’s tempting. Unfortunately, I can’t, because there’s still a lot of toiling to be done. I have a project to work on. The clock is ticking, and there are deadlines to beat to a bloody pulp. I know it’s Saturday, but I really, truly, honestly cannot relax too much these days, and it’s not just internalized capitalism, or whatever it is your theory of choice tells you I’m suffering from.
I’ll get back to work shortly. I just wanted to take a bit of time to write some words, string together some letters to help me soothe my soul, to produce something—art?—out of this moment of peace, observation, and reflection.