Its tongue twister of a name born out of the B’laan tongue, “Flom’lok” means “hunting grounds.” When I was new in Davao, every acquaintance I met had a hard time pronouncing the name. /P/ push air out of the mouth for the first letter and roll over the rhythmic /l/ lulling of O’s, savoring the “mmm…” in the middle to suddenly stop at the sharpness of a /k/, suspending the tip of the tongue afloat inside. “Polomolok.”
“Where are you from again?”
“Pol, Pol, where is it located?”
“Between Gensan and Koronadal; 17 kilometers from Pacquiao’s city of origin and thrice that distance to the other side, the former capital, of South Cotabato.”
“Wait, so Koronadal is formerly Marbel?”
“Yes. It’s complicated.”
A short awkward silence, then the conversation would progress to the difference between the three Cotabatos.
“So, how’s the war?”
“No. That’s North Cotabato. I’m from the South.”
The sound of the name could titillate a poet’s ear, believing that there are several brilliant ways to employ it in poetry. The name could be the ticket to the literary map of the Philippines, written about and later read by would-be tourists, regular visitors, and bloggers. A good place to retire in, Polomolok has the charm, peacefulness, and cool weather. There’s not much noise and we have a storm cover: Mt. Matutum. Polomolok can be about several stories, climbs and hikes down the mountain, water falls along the way to the foot, unstoppable gears and conveyor belts at the cannery site, urgent smell of processed pineapples, the make shift alleys of the market to ukay-ukay stalls, et cetera, et cetera.
I, for one, came to love my hometown when I studied creative writing. From its name to the stories its corners and crannies told, games we used to play by the season and every episode of losing innocence piece by piece to greater truths, to how I created and recreated it in words for an 18-page poem for my undergraduate thesis, to a longer one to complete the collection, to finally claiming that I had the town inside myself. I was the only one from Polomolok in the class so the subject matter was mine alone. But it wasn’t like this in the beginning.
Before, I only loved her when we were several miles and sceneries apart. I always felt that I haven’t spent enough time with the place I grew up in and had to leave. I found the forward motion of the bus ironic since leaving meant loving her more. For going somewhere else to study I thought I would be easily uprooted, replanted to a corner in a city where I would see the sun, the shade of Mt. Matutum. I was ready to forget who I was and embrace the new city boy I was about to become. The opposite happened instead.
In Davao, I was a nomad. I couldn’t stay in one place for more than a year. During college, I followed my cliques to where the party went, from one frat house to the next. After the phase, I moved from being overly attached to eight apartments in Mintal and forward to maturity in St. Michaels Village in Ma-a. Then back to being bored in Guava Street in Bangkal, to coping with the demands of adulthood near SPMC along Cabaguio Avenue.
I have lived in many different houses in the city but fixed to my only home. Moving was a way to cope up with the feeling of not being where I’m supposed to be; of not being in 667 Penido St., Brgy. Poblacion, Polomolok, South Cotabato. Like a compass, I was just completing a circle that went nowhere. My relationship with my hometown was a slow reenactment of John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”
While I was learning how to write, I was also learning how to drive. January 2006, I went home every other weekend since that one glorious time when my father brought home a faded maroon owner-type jeep. By the noon glare on the windshield, his smile behind the steering wheel finally answered why he had been with Dole Philippines, Inc. as a field mechanic since he was 17 years old. The sight of the awkwardly short and stout vehicle wasn’t new to me since it was his co-worker’s who dropped by the house from time to time. My father was the happiest 45-year old driving the jeepey into the yard. Like a parent bringing home his baby for the first time after being born in the hospital. When he got down from the vehicle he told me that he was going to teach me how to be a “safety driver.” I didn’t know what he meant.
Later, I realized that a safety driver should never, as in ever, drive over pineapple beds. It was the first day of our special father-and-son-bonding-session driving class and already I plowed over 20 pineapples that were ripe for harvesting. I panicked. My feet and my brain shuffled between the brake and the gas pedal forgetting which one was which. The steering wheel was at its own business sliding off my hands. Father panicked after. He pushed me out of the door-less jeepey and quickly got the vehicle out of its juicy demise, worried that the guards in varying vests from the local ukay-ukay, shotguns lying on their bellies, would drive by on their open-back multicab.
Luckily, there were none that time. The fields were vast enough they might have been on the other side of the planet. Polomolok is almost covered in pineapples. More than half of it is. At this moment, it could be a thousand pineapples to one person. There’s enough for everyone to steal a negligible amount of 10 to 15 pieces and Dole, multinational company that it is, would still be in business. The fields crawl further outside the town’s borders. A little bit of the outskirts of Gensan and on the other side, a thorny march towards the center of a smaller town, Tupi.
For such vastness I was confident that we would not get caught. I watched my father drive in reverse unusually cussing. I felt the urge to laugh but held it back at the first sign of a smirk. He was very wary still, the loyal employee that he was. A sharp “lininti-an ka,” (lightning strike you) along with a mindless “yu de puta” (with a certain degree of getting fucked up) accompanied his foot angering on the accelerator, carefully looking at the rear to the pathway, driving moderately fast enough to not cause further damage. When he got the jeepy out he turned to me, composed himself for a few seconds, and said, “Again, and this time concentrate!”
The pineapple fields were an ideal place to learn how to drive. Get in a beginner; go out, dust in your wake, a professional driver with pride and a student license. I acquired a non-professional driver’s license summer of the same year. By then, the jeepey was already sold for half its price to a finance cooperative firm in Gensan and replaced with a black Nissan pickup which seemed to have been passed down one too many times. It looked banged up and old but he insisted that it was still in running condition.
Mother woke me up at 4:30 AM one morning to fetch my father from Dole’s machine shop, a warehouse in the middle of the fields a kilometer and a half from the highway. If I wasn’t around, father would have to walk the distance to hail a tricycle home. I rose, drank the coffee on the table, got the keys to the pick-up and went on my way. I arrived and received a text from my father that he won’t be coming out until 6:00.
I sat in silence thinking what to do. I couldn’t go back to sleep because of the coffee. Outside, Mt. Matutum slowly livened up. The windshield enclosed a view of the sunrise. The sun pulled up from a horizon of thorns, the moist in the leaves evaporated along with it, cooling up the wind, moderating the warmth of the slow light. I felt the exquisiteness of the cold climate of Polomolok, a gentle dance of warmth and cold. The morning crept with small movements from the ground up, a faint bustling of critters shook the grasses minutely, the flowers opened their petals awakened by the cozy air, the moisture on stems formed dews at the tip of the leaves. The pineapple fields were coming to life.
I fell into a trance but aware where I was: the driver seat. Everything resonated with the humming of time, a slow constant upward movement. Evaporating, earth offered its soul to the skies. There was nothing to worry about. It was a perfect state. I wasn’t happy, but wasn’t sad either. I was nothing.
Only the sun mattered, burning yet bearable in the coldness of morning, half sunk in the thorns and shadow of trees and hills. A gentle yellow fireball on powder blue rose from a greening landscape. A silhouette of a flock of birds blotted the stillness. The clouds brightened up and the humming of crickets soon faded. The day was absolute; night has already passed. This moment was the fixed point of the compass, my home.
I drove home pleasantly confused. How could something be very beautiful and profound, unnoticed and not written about? If only my father wrote he might have written about it. I looked forward to the same sunrise. Mother no longer needed to wake me up; I volunteered to fetch my father daily after then. But he would go out earlier more often and I only saw the sight four or five times.
The next sunrise I saw was from a seat in a bus to Davao when I travelled at dawn to enroll for the first semester. The bus was along Baluyan, the winding road carved out of the side of a mountain overlooking the plains and bays of Sarangani. In the midst of shared air conditioning system and the synchronized faint snoring and breathing of other passengers, I watched the sun rise from the sea where its straight luminous reflection looked like a bronze pathway on the water towards nothingness.
Darylle Rubino is currently teaching at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.