"The sun is rising, Mama," the 7-year-old boy whispered. But he couldn't really see the sun. He was in a dark prison cell where he and his mother had been brought just hours after soldiers from another land stormed their house and murdered his father and four older brothers. Now here, in the darkness, as they sat beside each other on the floor, mother and child held each other in a tight embrace, the wounded and profusely bleeding mother relishing the last few moments of her motherhood, the son desperately pressing his frail body against the mother's blood drenched torso, foolishly hoping that by doing so, his body would cover her unseen wound and miraculously stop the flow of blood.
In their first 10 hours of their incarceration, they never saw a glimmer of hope. Until a painfully familiar music seeped into the room through the small gap between the door and the floor. It was the enemy soldiers' national anthem.
He knew that every time the anthem was played, the invaders were celebrating another conquest, and his countrymen were mourning over another massacre. Yet his delirious heart felt some hope each time he heard that song, because it meant that a new day had just begun and maybe, after a night of deep contemplation, one of the soldiers would miraculously open the door to their cell and bring his dying mother to a doctor.
On the third day of their incarceration, his wish came true, albeit just partially. A soldier opened the door, the bright lamp in his hand suddenly bringing light into the claustrophobic cell, allowing the boy to see his mother's affectionate eyes. Those eyes were protectively looking down at him, just as they had for the last three days. Even in the dark, she never took her gaze off her son. The boy reached out to touch those loving eyes and, gently, he shut them. She deserved to be at peace after lapsing into an eternal sleep.
"The sun is rising, Mama," he said for the last time.
A year later, the invaders were defeated and the boy regained his freedom. On the night that he was freed, he went straight to their house. Not a single lamp or candle was there to light up the place. But he actually liked it, because in the dark, there was little for the eyes to see and much for the mind to dream of. And dream he did.
He lay down on the hard bamboo floor, and dreamed that his family was whole again, that his brothers had fought back and killed the invaders when their home was raided. He remembered the days before the war, when they would all sleep together on just one mat.
But after all that he'd been through, he could no longer tolerate his own ridiculous fantasies. He shifted to more realistic dreams and imagined that they were together in that dark prison cell, all dying but comforted by the thought of journeying to heaven as one family.
Amid all the dreaming, the boy unconsciously hummed the invaders' anthem. The night was so silent that the boy's faint humming could be heard by his neighbors. And upon hearing that despicable music, the neighbors were instantly scandalized. The boy had gone insane, they concluded. As soon as the sun rose, they planned to scold him and purge him of his unpatriotic ways.
But why should an individual's love become a worthy sacrifice when it stands in the way of a collective hatred? Why should they take away the one thing that reminds him of his mother's most memorable gestures of love? Couldn't they understand? The boy hummed that unpatriotic song not because he loved the invaders but because he loved his mother.
The boy's story is true. It is the sad story of the Filipino people.
They keep saying that we don't have a true national identity. We're constantly described as monkeys who honor their cruel masters by imitating the latter's tricks. Do they really think that each time we celebrate Christmas, fiestas and Holy Week, we're just sucking up to our former Spanish masters? That each time we write songs and poems in English, we're just mimicking the Americans? Don't they get it? We practice traditions inspired by Spaniards and Americans not because we take pride in being their former subjects. We practice them not because we're lifeless caricatures who perpetually worship the colonizers but because we're real human beings who know how to feel, to love and to live.
Throughout this nation's history, we often had to feel, love and live even as our hands were tied and our feet were shackled. We had to move on even if our homeland was one dark prison cell. So what if the only music that played in that prison was the music of our captors? So what if the prayers we had to pray were the same ones our jailers prayed? What's important is that we learned to hum to the music when there was nothing else to inspire us and we displayed faith even when the only way of doing it was to speak to the invaders' God. Of course, there are some who would always ridicule the prisoners who kept humming and praying inside the prison cell. But they're the ones who never knew how it's like to be jailed. That's why they never understand.
The days of our incarceration are gone. But the music that played in those dark days still continues to play in our heads. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Going back to the boy, he didn't have a past he could brag about. But did he really have a chance to choose his past? The boy's mother was never strong enough to protect him from the invaders. So what? She was strong enough to love him till the end. And that's what should matter most. That should be all the reason he needs to spend the rest of his life striving to honor his mother's memory with his triumphs. Sometimes, the songs of his countrymen will inspire him. But there will be nights when the enemy's anthem will play in his head, stoking the fires of determination that burned in him.
Today, millions of Filipinos are out there, trying to fulfill their dreams and hoping to honor the mothers who bled to death in dark prisons. In their heads, different songs are playing—some written by Filipinos, others written by the invaders' descendants. But to their hearts, the songs bring the same message: "The sun is rising, my motherland."
Ernesto Dedel III, 24, is a customer service representative of Sitel Customer Care Philippines Inc.
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