Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tabada: Storytellers


IN THE flesh. Enfleshed.

An artist’s rendering shared on social media brought me back to those mornings in Sanciangko, the street behind my son’s downtown campus.

Whenever we brought him to his morning classes, I often saw this woman washing clothes like any dutiful homemaker.

Yet hers was no humdrum chore. She wore not a stitch, all fleshy contours carnally glisteningly wet as she squatted on the sidewalk, rinsing clothes in an overflowing canal.

My first reaction was to look away. Where was this woman’s family? What if she came to be harmed by more than the fetid wastewater or a jeepney driver racing to meet the day’s rent?

I spared her the few seconds it took to form these thoughts and then forgot her. Life took over.

It became part of the morning ritual to see and not see her, this woman who blended with the city waking up around her, the still-shuttered stores, bars, honky-tonks. She was a face on the other side of our car windows.

Yet, she was me. We had chores; on some days, I could not say I looked forward to mine the way she pinned her attention on those bits she rinsed along with the city’s waste. Then my friend H. shared a sketch of the woman posted on the Facebook page, “JuanMiguel does Art.”

Juan Miguel Cañeda, a comics creator who started and manages the page, transformed the woman I saw years ago washing in the gutters of Sanciangko into a graphic novel “bida (hero),” surrounded by a halo of half tones and dingy blotches on bulging acreages of exposed skin.

Only rabid comics readers recognize the sigil representing the power of this misbegotten creature: the half-note or minim, universal notation for music.

In his caption for “Our Nudist Neighbor,” Cañeda wrote: “I don’t know her personally but she reminds me to just do what you love to do...”

Like the spinners of tales of old Cebu, Cañeda’s sketch sparks other riffs. Some of the 900 people following his page commented that they have seen the same woman turn up in other streets, other gutters in Cebu City, still washing clothes. One Netizen recognized her, saying the woman’s family looked for her and brought her back home each time she ran away. In the end, they let her be.

Through their FB page, Cañeda and his partner, Rio Maghinay, make and sell shirts and hoodies. Their real passion are the stories of the people sketched by Cañeda.

Or enfleshed. Just as the woman washing in Sanciangko brings me back to the days my mother brought me across the same street to the now defunct Paul’s Bookstore, which started my girlhood’s collection of novels.

And, yes, I learned her name: Helen. In my favorite stories, no one, not even a character named Nameless, remains nameless.


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