Chastity and the invisible night
There are subtle intricacies in the design of old Philippine colonial houses. Whatever it was called, balay nga bato, balay nga tisa, or dakung balay, it was always a house of shadows and secret doorways.
The posts stood a few feet away from the walls producing little niches for the household help to position themselves away from view of the masters and their guests. They were not supposed to show themselves unless the masters called for some small service or other.
He read somewhere how this was an old European tradition, ostensibly practiced by the well-to-do, those who could afford large mansions whose domestic operations were done mostly by the children of neighboring peasants. They had their own worlds, separate from each other. The peasants lived well away and different from the world of their feudal lords. And that fact shows itself in the architecture and the design of living spaces, the architectonics of the culture itself.
In remembering ancient times, we read mostly about the lives of the powerful. The household help, the domestics, the poor are seldom ever written about. Egypt reminds us of great pharaohs and the pyramids. We seldom if ever remember the slaves who did most of the work of cutting each piece of stone and then laying them down one over another, layer upon layer.
How did they live? What did they eat? What toys did they play with? All these are erased in history. The poor are invisible. Even if they were everywhere as they still are.
The travel of the times have not changed this invisibility in the real sense. We see only the outward signs. The fact of unkempt children knocking on the windows of our cars or the jeepneys we ride to and back from work. In the very early morning, we might find them, the homeless, sleeping on the sidewalks, the sun slowly baking them where they lie. But soon, guards will come to chase them away leaving us only an inkling that they were there at all.
They are children of the night, beggars, eking out a small living, a coin for watching a car, a dole-out from a foreigner, if they are lucky. The darkness brings with it unpredictable opportunities. As much of it as there are dangers. Like us, they live by wits. And if not that, then purely by luck. Who knows what the darkness and bright neon lights bring?
It makes perfect sense to be invisible, not to show one’s self until one needs to. There are those who would round them up, send them to jail just for being there, and always for their own good. But when that is not happening, there are other dangers. Which is why they travel in groups. Do they have families? Homes? That would be too far distant. They would not be missed.
The streets are their home now. Here, they must find their secret places. Places where they can sleep away from the public eye. They are invisible because they need to be. The places where they sleep must be invisible too, a hole in the wall, even a hidden hole inside an old tree will do.
And even as they live this way, we all go about our lives working in factories, offices, and schools. We live in houses, inside subdivisions, or condos in plush high-rise buildings. We imagine the difficulty of our own lives. The difficulty of other lives are for us unreachable. We can hardly believe.
We have problems of our own. How do we even begin to contemplate the lives of those who, when they get sick, do not go to a doctor, or buy medicine? Those, who must beg or sell themselves for their next meal? They disappear into the night. Become invisible. It is not because we like them that way. It is only because we have grown used to it. Used to them this way, invisible. And they like it that way too. They are also grown used to it. To be invisible is to survive.
And then Chastity Mirabiles came along, and then passed away, as if only to make us remember. Somehow, to call to us how she was here, one among many.
They are here. This is how it is for them. This is the dark dangerous invisible night where they live and sometimes die.
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