City life |

People have different coping mechanisms to feel isolated from the pandemic. People are still doing office and school work online, yes, but they are still doing other things to calm them down.

Some people watch movies, documentaries, and shows on YouTube and Netflix, with its exciting new offerings. Others listen to music on Spotify or YouTube. Most remain in the virtual world of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, increasingly, the short and dynamic medium of Tiktok.

In my case, I continue to teach part-time at Ateneo de Manila University, Far Eastern University and San Beda University. I am finishing the Filipino translation of Eileen Tabios’ novel, “Dovelion”. Penguin Random House South East Asia also signed me to a two-book deal to translate national artist Amado V. Hernandez’s novels into English: “Ibong Mandaragit” (“Birds of Prey”) and “Luha ng Buwaya” ( “Crocodile Tears”). Penguin also just accepted my latest book, “Heart of Summer: Selected Stories and Tales,” for publication in December.

Writing, indeed, saved me from the unease caused by this long-running pandemic. I also write memoir pieces, like this one when I was a law student a few years ago.

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If you were a drone, you would see a slow Light Railway Transit (LRT) 2 train heading from Santolan to Recto station. I would board at Katipunan station, with its smelly toilets and filthy floor. It was a Thursday morning and I was going to law school at a university in Manila.

The train would be crammed with students on their way to the university belt: Iranians taking medicine, dressed in their white uniforms and speaking in a strange, melodic language; dashing teenagers in their PE uniforms and law students like me reading our tomes, uh, our books. There were also office workers and factory workers, who kept looking at their watches or trying to fall asleep.

I looked outside and there was St. Joseph’s Church; we were now at Anonas. I remembered my mother, who taught music at the elementary school in Quirino, two blocks behind the church. She often passed by, my mother-in-law who taught music to four generations of students.

The ugly buildings of Aurora Boulevard faded before my eyes, and now it was Cubao. Half the people on the train got off here, workers going to Caloocan in the north or Makati in the south. Then we would resume our journey, cocooned in the caterpillar shape of the train, past the elegant green New Manila townhouses with tall trees, past the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, past the magnificent building that was once the Goethe’s house, the German Cultural Center, where I attended book launches 20 years ago.

The Iranians had ceased their musical conversations. Now they were reading their thick medical books. Law students continued reading their books on Persons and Family Relations, the Revised Penal Code or Obligations and Contracts. They mumbled words and closed their eyes, memorizing arrangements the terror teachers might request later in class.

You knew you weren’t in Quezon City anymore and you were now entering Manila because the tangle of wires was bigger, the roofs more rusty. Sometimes the air was a gray dome above us, until we reached Recto’s terminal.

From Recto would then branch off LRT 2, one going north to Roosevelt in Quezon City, the other going south to Doroteo Jose in Manila. I took this train later, when I lived in a condominium near the Muñoz market. I was made Dean of the Journalism Faculty at Manila Times College in 2016, and when my car was in digital coding, I rode the train. Roosevelt station also had smelly toilets. Students and factory workers made up most of the passengers here, apart from people traveling to Cloverleaf Markets or south to Baclaran.

But the LRT 2 passengers were more aggressive, pushing and shoving their way in. I automatically stood in the space near the door and let them in and out of the train. The sights from this train were sadder: smaller houses made of thin plywood, a scruffy line where laundry hung.

My heart leaped when I saw the solid building of the Scottish Rite Temple, remembering the years and a half I had spent living in joyful, ancient Scotland. Then come small buildings and dormitories. Only De La Salle University looked grand, with its tall white columns and vibrant greenery.

Other condominiums had been rising in the area since I had started taking the train, and now they had to be finished, including this horrible building that stood behind the monument to national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, at the Lunata. It was a real shame that World War II broke out, killing almost a million Filipinos and destroying our great buildings. Manila was the second most bombed city in the world during this war, after Warsaw.

I got off at Arroceros station and thanked the Lord that the beautiful park was still there on one side and the Metropolitan Theater was still standing on the other side. There were only a few places in the Philippines where nature and culture were in close proximity to each other.

Sometimes I went to the toilet near the bus station. You had to pay ten pesos but that was ok as it was air conditioned and clean. While inside, one could see on the wall the photographs of Old Manila, in black and white, our beautiful churches and our great universities, before the bombs whistled and fell, destroying them forever.

Lives can be lost in the blink of an eye, whether you are a civilian trapped in one of the buildings in Intramuros during this terrible war, or you are currently afflicted with the COVID-19 virus, fighting it with all the bravery and energy that God has given you.

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E-mail: [email protected]. Danton Riverrun’s book, A Novel, was published by Penguin Books.

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