Note : This article was published in the first edition of LAWIG. On March 2021, LAWIG was re-launched underlining photography and design talents from the provinces of the Philippines.
One of the strange consequences of growing up with an alcoholic father was my forays into the world of make-believe. Before I discovered books, my imagination was a great companion in my youthful desires to escape reality. I became dreamy. At the young age of seven, I started making up stories of people only I knew because I created them. Instead of playing with other children, I would retreat to our backyard, draw stick figures in the sand, and conjure other people’s lives. They were mostly love stories. Boy meets girl, lives in a nice house and lives happily, not always ever after, because heavy, pouring rain would suddenly fall and banish me from my unfinished tales, and from the small plot in our backyard. This went on, and as I got older, I learned to listen to the radio, and listen well.
I picture myself, lying beside our old turntable, an old Zenith stereophonic console, ears stuck to the speakers, listening to Lily Malasa as she greeted her 4’o’ clock audience with Love in the Afternoon. Love was a radio music program. I somehow fell into it when one day, coming home from school, I entered our empty house and heard Seals and Crofts singing plaintively: “When I was 17, I dreamed of being king, and having everything I wanted…” The house was quiet, except for the sound of my mother’s preoccupations at dusk, sweeping the backyard, watering her beloved plants, shooing the chickens away from their endless pecking. I must have been 10 or 11 years old, it is not clear right now, but even then, I had an intimation of the pain, of the longing in the musician’s voice. With sure moves, I dragged a bench from the nearby window towards the stereo, lay on my side facing the speakers, and listened to Lily’s voice and her song choices until I felt hypnotized, soporific.
At the time, I didn’t want to be king or queen of anything. As far I was concerned, I had everything I wanted: a home with a big leafy flower and vegetable garden, trees that yielded all kinds of sweet fruits, chickens, dogs and cats roaming our backyard filling it with animal noises, loving parents — and a stereo that played songs with strange longings. After I discovered this radio program, I somehow abandoned my playmates and our games, and hurried home eagerly, everyday. As the clock struck four, I positioned myself beside the speakers and waited for Lily’s voice. Headsets were not yet common at the time and Love became some kind of a female companion for me. She was remote but near, with a velvet, soothing voice that smoothed the wrinkles of everyday life in Rawis, and she played the most heartbreaking songs which managed to dredge an odd empathy. Pilot of the Airwaves was Love’s signature opening, and as Charlie Dore sang this iconic one hit tune, I felt giddy, like a girl in a candy store.
I know now that the program was the seeding of the romantic in me. Joni Mitchell singing about painted ponies captive to the carousel of time, VST and Co, seeking forgiveness in Ipagpatawad Mo, a band called America singing about a highway called Ventura in the sunshine, or falling in love right in front of a stranger’s eyes. Peter, Paul and Mary singing about hammers yet making it sound so good. Somehow, during those years of lying down ears glued beside the stereo, listening as my heart beat to the drum of American folk, Top 40 and Filipino pop music, a girl not yet interrupted by the many things that would splinter her life into many pieces, developed what can be called a capacity to imagine, not yet the suffering of others, but the joy of listening to someone else’s voice, not her own.
The days and years under the Marcos regime dragged along. Lily and Love in the Afternoon drowned out the quotidian, masked the underlying national anxiety. For at least one hour every day, she carried me through worlds that jutted in my mind’s eye like shifting rainbows, tickled my ears in high fidelity, and provided the impetus for what later became the twins called wandering and wanting to be found.
Photographs by Angel Abuel
Collage by Julia Villamonte
Words by Cynthia Buiza
Cynthia Buiza grew up in Rawis, Legazpi City, and now lives in Los Angeles, California. Her poems and essays have appeared in Ani, The Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday Magazine, Our Own Voice, Tayo Magazine, Migozine, Chopsticks Alley, Paloma Press anthology collections and other anthologies in the U.S.