This story is the first part of a longer piece I wrote entitled “Memories of Cebu: Three Ways.”
It was the day after the fiesta of the Holy Child yet the basilica was still filled with pilgrims. A few churchgoers, most of them women, walked the aisle on their knees, their faces in intense prayer. In the pews, clusters of people were praying the rosary softly. The smell of candles filled the air. My father held my small hand tightly as we made a beeline toward the statue of the Holy Child at the side of the cathedral. There must have been hundreds of pilgrims packed in the narrow space, bodies pressed tightly to each other. Once my father and I were part of this mass of people, it was difficult to hold his hand. I lost him. I was pushed in all directions, swept away by the strong current. I wanted to cry but didn’t. My fear turned to anger. I didn’t know who or what I was angry at, but my growing anger fueled me to break away from the crowd. A small fish swimming against the current. I reached the main door and stood there. Old women danced with candles in their wrinkly hands. Balloon vendors sold their wares to children. My worried father stood beside a boy with a red balloon. Tatay, I called. Dad. Relief flooded his face when he saw me. Being eight, I was too old to be carried, but my father picked me up and embraced me tightly to comfort me. But perhaps it was mostly to comfort himself.