By Dalziel Chaz B. Oyao
There was fragile excitement in me the first time I was asked by my mother to pick up my sister from work. She was working in one of the malls here in General Santos City, and each day, she would talk about how bleak the situation had become. The corridors once trod by crowds of shoppers were empty, and the smallest sounds echoed in the unlit corners of the mall. “It’s like those zombie shooter games,” she would say. I would then try to picture them as much and see a grim image.
Although her daily narratives were vividly enthralling, I enjoyed my part of the routine even more. My job was mostly to take her to work and then pick her up when she needed to be home. Even though I didn’t particularly appreciate waking up so early, it was the feeling of seeing the city again that compensated for it. In the morning, the highways were so light and empty that I could speed as much as I wanted, and in the afternoon, the sunset was undisturbed and the soft glow of streetlights blended into twilight. In those times, the nakedness of the streets often felt satisfying. Even though it was still, when you saw it in the correct angle, it felt absolutely desolate.
As things got a little better and as the lockdown got more relaxed, I was able to go to more places with the family, although, of course, I had to maintain that routine of picking up my sister and always keeping safe in the process. There were more people to interact with then, so the anxiety would often balloon. Despite these fears, it felt relieving to watch the streets roar with activity again and the city beginning to fill with a little bit more light than it had in the past few months. The slow and somewhat unsteady or uncertain resurrection of the city felt relieving for the time being.
There were days when I refused to drive or even just go out of the house. These were times when I was either exhausted or perhaps too anxious to do anything for the day. But however spent I felt, I could not refuse a good look at the city. Frankly, it was best when I wasn’t the one driving. I got to look at the outside without having to think too much about crashing. I could lean on the glass to see and feel for myself how much the world had changed. With at least one go each week, there was unyielding joy in looking at the roads I’d seen the thousandth time. There was happiness in witnessing civic movement, no matter how relaxed or robust it was. There was an unexplainable delight in seeing the architecture of urban life lingering and rising where it could.
During these moments, I’d usually despise myself for being unable to explain this feeling, this enchantment of one’s hometown as elaborate as possible. But then I was sure other people would have their version of this fascination, and for some, it might even be more mesmerizing to them than it would ever be for me.
Recalling this, I still have that excitement, but it’s much firmer and intense now. It’s both funny and tragic how I’ve only been able to see and admire more of this city during its unfortunate downtime due to the pandemic. I’m not saying it needed this global crisis for me to admire this city. I know I would have found this place, my hometown, in all of its graces, growing stronger in me each year anyway. And although that routine is over as of the moment, I suppose it’s a good thing since I’m now able to go to many places now unrestrained by schedules. For the reader’s assurance, this freedom will not go to waste. More inspired than ever, I suppose I’ll write more about this city now, and this, to be honest, has to be the best way to begin.