As a child, I searched for shadows. Like an elf, I ducked under bushes where my playmates would thrust out their faces and breasts to the sun. Under trees at high noon, when the crown of an acacia tree from across our balcony covered its root space like a clipped parasol, I’d creep to it and hug the ancient roots, basking in its shadow. In the rare mornings when allowed with cousins to picnic on stones by the riverbank, where desert-thin camachile trees promised but a flimsy shade, I borrowed a granduncle’s wide-brimmed straw hat.
On my way to school, trudging through a kilometer of dirt side roads, even with a black umbrella, the sun bothered me so much, I made stops if not under trees in stores owned by relatives. Once, I walked into a komedya rehearsal at the town teatro and got engrossed between a mock battle and the princess’ entrance up to the prince’s marriage proposal; by the time I resumed my walk to school, a zenith sun seemed to have whitewashed the deserted streets and though I quickened my pace, my teacher, a granduncle, had begun to wind down our class in arithmetic.
By the stream where my grandmother scoured the soot off the iron rice pot and skillet, I’d haunt silken strips of shadows under bamboo groves, and also waited on the engorged shadow of a kingfisher that never failed to fly by. Inay, my grandmother, had learned from snoops that I sauntered alone at high noon by the stream, even took dips. Upbraided, I stopped creeping into it for a while; instead, I began haunting shadows in the wooded orchard of Lola Annit, a grandaunt. One afternoon, a buzzing shadow chased me—a swarming cloud, the bees I had disturbed raced me to the chicken coop. I suffered a few stings, which she soothed with dabs of burnt molasses syrup, and made to vow never to steal into that grove again.
Even the light I preferred for reading had to be somewhat faint like only at dusk would I race through a novel, especially F. Sionil Jose’s series in my Inay’s Bannawag; to tackle my assignments, I also waited for the Coleman to die out, and studied instead with the glow of a lampara. One day, letters seemed stuck together on a page as the sun felt blinding especially during flag ceremonies, where we faced East with the sunrise bouncing off the roof of the school’s administrative building.
It turned out I suffered from light aberrations, diagnosed by an ophthalmologist at PGH, on recommendation of my physician-aunt, as hyper astigmatism coupled with hyperopia—my large pupils, which, as a child, delighted adoring aunts and older cousins, apparently refracted light abnormally; in fact, these get fractured in broken lines. Fitted early on with corrective lenses, my eyesight had seemed normal in years but would recur, especially later when I got to New York, where light sneaks in from the sides of its Avenues skyscrapers have made tunnel-like.
While I have learned to live with it, the many versions of light streamed into my writing. And as I found extra help for constant adjustments—even for the hue of my lenses and dark glasses with side-lenses to ward off juvenile rays, also goggles fitted over prescription glasses that give me the look of a deep-sea diver—still in the intense brightness of Vancouver skies, light bounces off my eyes in lyrical ways.
Meanwhile, I wonder if my parents, especially my mother, with intuitive knowing, sent me off to a convent-like dormitory in Manila. Indeed, it had helped me through what to most seem just a disdain for the sun as more shaded nooks deepened my images in writing.