We grew up in the mountains of Banaue. In that fantastic place that once was the eighth wonder of the world. In those days, the Ifugao still conducted their secret rituals in the mountains and headhunting was not yet eradicated. My mother tells me that the first time that we moved to Banaue, she lay shaking in bed, listening to the sounds of the gongs and the chants that floated downwards on the wind. Surely, the spirits they worshipped exuded a secret flavor into the air, infecting the fabric of our dreams so that on some nights my sister and I awoke to find ourselves flying through the air and tumbling out of our beds into each others arms.
Perhaps it is that childhood in the mountains that awakened within us a certain sense of solitariness. Even though we made friends and adopted the hospital staff as extended family, we continued to hunger for belonging. Perhaps, there is some unwritten map traced upon the insides of our beings, some secret bond that ties us to the place where we originate from. I can't really say because I'm no expert at this.
Our parents built for us a sheltered world. We had walls filled with books that fed our imagination and even though we did not see them, our world was peopled with the sounds and the laughter of Indians and princesses, warriors and knights, giants and dwarves and all the mystical and fantastical creations that proceeded from the minds of the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
We were so engrossed in the world of fairytales, wrapped up in the fantasies that we were reading that we did not notice the conflict that was going on in the mountains. We failed to comprehend the danger of staying out beyond curfew. If there were wars fought, we were oblivious to them.
Perhaps those who were older suffered and perhaps they understood the strife between the government and those tattered men with faces like granite. We who spent our childhood in the shade of Martial Law had no comprehension of what life was like without the curfews and the constant presence of the soldiers.
That secret war was a distant reality and even the whispers about informers in the town only served to fuel our vivid fantasies so that we imagined ourselves to be detectives like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, picking up clues as we watched the houses of suspects. We grew so confused by our long list of clues that we ended up deciding that it was all a mirage that we had conjured up out of the air.
The presence of the war between the government and the rebel forces did not dawn on us, we did not realize its direness, not even when we awoke to find the area between our house and the hospital swarming with men in uniform on one side and ragged looking civilians slinging guns over their shoulders on the other side.
They had come with the dawn, bringing their dying and their wounded, like shadows filtering into the compound, standing opposite each other, just as they stood on opposite sides of the law.
As the sun arose, the soldiers lounged under the shadow of the crooked pines. They lit their cigarettes and stared up at the white walls of the hospital, their hands released from the tensions of war, they made jokes with the nurses who came down to bring them news of their comrades.
On the other side, the rebels waited, squatted down in the shadows, chewing beetlenut while they glared at their uniformed opponents.
To my father, there were no rebels and there were no soldiers, when asked if he had treated rebel or soldier, he replied that they were all alike to him, wounded patients caught in the crossfire and in need of healing.
By the end of the day, the warring parties had vanished. They faded like shadows into the approaching night and we forgot about them.