Calesa

0

In Nanaimo, I take a cab to work.
I spend the midnight shift serving subs, Japa-dogs,
and gourmet poutine, to the slurring, swaying,
bar crowd crying out for more pickles, less pickles,
no onions, more sauce please, this isn’t what I ordered.
But on my days off, I take a bus to work,
ask for no onions, and dream of my childhood:
privileged with perpetual days off, no pressure
to get good grades in school, catching the breeze
on my room’s balcony in the dry, scorching heat
of July in the Philippines.

Calesa carriages lined the sidewalk
just outside my family’s second-story apartment
in the middle of what is now the City of San Fernando.
I used to look down from my balcony
and watch the horses fidget in their harnesses,
blinders blocking all peripheral stimuli
to ensure they look only straight ahead; focus on the job.
From my balcony view I watched the veiled women
walk to the cathedral for the 6pm Angelus
while the black bats on the bell tower rose off in a fluttering cloud.
In the mornings, the old women carrying bayongs went shopping
for fish and meat in the wet market across the street.
In the midst of it all, the calesa carriages
stood waiting for business.

On weekdays, I’d take the jeepney to school.
But on Sundays, my family and I sometimes rode a calesa
around town just for the fun of it.
I remember watching the calesa horse walk,
trot, stop, start, to the signal of the driver.
Attentive to pitch and tone, to the twitch of the reins
and the threat of the whip’s sting, to the next
customers clambering in, demanding
hurry please, errands
to run or as we did, drive slowly, stop here,
now around the block. . .

On their day off, I once saw a horse
and driver unharnessed, running loose-limbed
across stretches of unfurled green,
to the whip of mane flying
and the sting of driving wind on faces,
inattentive to all else but pure joy.