Or how the worth of goods in it could be missed outright because they’re really more than the symbols of OFW “sacrifices and hardships,” which then-President Corazon Aquino’s amendment to the Tariff Law that exempts it, honors. What then could they truly be? Try mulling over on these:
Thick fog on cold mornings that settles as protective mantle on bottles of instant Taster’s Choice, a big tub of Coffee Mate, cans of Spam and corned beef, dozen packs of Kraft Mac and Cheese, jars of Nutella, tubes of Pringles, and tins of Lindt chocolates huddled for boxing.
Solitary twilights that line the box like four walls—a pair each of cotton bedsheets in twin, queen and king sizes; also bath and face towels, that wrap medium-sized perfumes, one, an Elizabeth Arden cologne; a 50ml L’Oreal revitalizing day and night cream; a couple of Revlon lipsticks; and Michael Kors, Kate Spade and Coach small purses.
The many shapes of motherhood stuffed into a backpack—a pair of Nike sneakers with matching socks wrapped in three large-sized T-shirts emblazoned with LeBron’s name; anti-glare Foster Grants dark glasses; extreme whitening toothpaste tubes, deodorant sticks, acne-erasing deep-cleansing creams, sun-block lotions, and a still-loose space for a dream Beats headphone.
An ocean of memories that, like a rip tide, has swept and surged back many times, if prominent on a grocery shelf—Jacob crackers long ago divided between sisters, Quaker oats served only on Sundays, and powdered (Kool-Aid then) orange juice only for a sick brother, laid in the box especially for Nanay, as if to reverse the past, when she denied her own self, a bite, a spoonful and a sip of these.
Fitting goods into a balikbayan box takes Lyna about a year or more during timeouts from her daily trudge to work, some nights of overtime, solitary meals, off-hours browsing sale items, weekends stacking up finds, reviewing the list—so that no one back home would feel left out—crossing out or adding an item, juggling a budget saved from say, Canada’s Tax-Free Savings Account since two years ago.
She apologizes constantly to friends, especially Legion of Mary members, when they bring the image of Our Lady of Fatima for a week’s stay—consorts must walk sideways through the foyer of the basement apartment she shares with a friend, where she has stacked the boxes waiting for more items, which she hopes would be on sale soon.
Like Rebecca, who learned the preferences of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, also friends, long deemed as relatives, during her few visits to the Philippines, Lyna has added items for her octogenarian ninang’s rather costly cosmetics, and her son’s hinted-wishes when asked what reward he might want for graduating bemedaled in multiple.
She and Rebecca worry about the looming tax over dubious smuggled appliances; her dream house has yet to take off from mere words, but already in a closet not only the porcelain dinner, glass and silver sets, curtains with valances, which she could not resist in a garage sale, but also a second-hand television set, a used-but-still-like-new toaster oven, a blender and juicer, await.
Rebecca rues how such tax in a way would chomp away a tradition, recalling what’s just-a-box hoisted onto the bus by a rope that tied its fragile sides decades ago, which probinsiyanos visiting Manila stuffed with pasalubong, like freshly picked gulay, and on the way back, filled it with Sunkist oranges, Golden Delicious apples and ubas, for kin left behind; this, too, did figure in thoughts swapped around recently.
But if Customs persists in exacting tariff for items in a balikbayan box, it might want to try monetizing value on lives lived simultaneously yet apart, the past in the guise of the present and vice versa, shuttling between seas and skies.