I was walking along the dirt road to our village. It was nestled in between a giant hill and a meandering river, which I could see ahead pass the bend. It was quiet. The sun was frying the terraced rice paddies to cracked tiered cakes. The sun was up there, somewhere; I couldn’t see it. But I could feel its heat on my skin and the sweat on my brow. A horizon of bamboo groves swayed along the riverbank. I was alone, not scared in anyway, as solitude felt natural and comfortable, but wondering aloud where everyone was, when all of a sudden, the air cooled, the temperature dropped precipitously cold, and I shivered. A cloudy bluish gray shroud blanketed the sky, which began to fall. It closed in. I put my hands up to stop it from crashing, thinking I had the powers to stop the heavens. Puffs of dewy, nimbucumulous clouds swirled about me. I panicked, fearing of lightning strikes.
Then a voice rang out. It was sonorous; a female voice as far as I could tell. “Quo vadis?” she asked.
Confused, I kept silent, looking around, not wanting my position discovered. She asked again. I didn’t understand the question, which I protested finally. The clouds by now had turned to an impenetrable fog, and I began to hyperventilate. I felt caged. Yet, she kept asking the same question. Over and over. Quo vadis? I screamed, but no sound came out of my throat.
That’s when I opened my eyes and there I was in bed, drenched in sweat. The fever broke that morning. I had the flu, and I can’t remember now exactly when, or if I am remembering it correctly, I was young, but to this day, I have an irrational fear and discomfort of low hanging clouds, and immense fog, as if they are nebulous creatures out to get me; and for a very long time, I could not shake that two-worded question out of my head. It stuck in the back of my consciousness like gum to shoe. It was not until the 1990’s when the Internet was born that I found out what it meant.
Quo vadis? Where are you going? Papanam kadí?
A phrase in Latin, an elitist language I have never studied, fucked with my brain for over a decade. I am not sure where I picked it up, but it is a classic apocryphal Catholic story of Pearly Gates Peter asking JC where he is going, and JC replied that he was on his way back to Rome to be crucified, again, which gave Pete the boost to stick to the evangelist salvation retirement plan, and returned to the city, too, where he was killed. There was a MGM epic from 1951 starring Peter Ustinov, called Quo Vadis, based on the novel, Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, by Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz.
The film was nominated for eight Oscars, and won zilch. I can’t really watch the movie again without laughing at the stilted acting, or Mr. Ustinov as Nero. It was definitely the kind of Vatican-approved film the Manila broadcasters would show in an endless loop, until it sinks into your gut and soul like a tropical parasitic worm, and you forget where you came from, and you start feverishly dreaming something foreign. Regardless, it was a profound question, one that I have embraced, and one that I have been wrestling with my whole life.
Who am I? Where did I come from? Which fork in the road should I follow? Do I come out or hide? Do I keep it or break it? Do I fight or flee? Do I say something, and how do I say it, or should I stay quiet? Should I be sorry? Do I live or die? Do I let go? Do I care? Should I?
Where am I going? Ania ti papanakon ngay?
I don’t have all the answers. So here we are. Ta-daa. Website. Took me a few days to design and put together; but two years to decide to launch (I’m a Libra!), because writing is hard, and sharing it is even more difficult. As Erykah Badu says,
But I’m glad The Woman asked me that question. Quo vadis?
Some things might be worth going back to Rome.