WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Hair, there, and elsewhere by Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY — Home a couple of hours before midnight.

My 12-year-old daughter Sage pulls out her hair and drops it on a basin of water.

Witchcraft again? Voodoo? Maybe a science experiment? Or esoteric art form.

Curious at what she was doing, I moved in and looked. She turns to me with a welcome smile and says,

“It floats, mom.”

“So it does, honey. Mind telling me what it means?” I asked.

“It’s healthy. If it’s not, it’s going to sink because it’ll be soaking up water. I found an article on the ‘net,” she explained as she hugged me and gently rubbed the top of her head against my chin.

That sounds about right. Her hair is like a live thing (you make my heart sing). She moves and it’s like a tumble of black waterfall. In repose – when my girl is reading in bed or when she’s bending over a drawing – her hair rests like a sleek animal at slumber, like a shiny seal or a small glossy mammal curling up on itself.

It’s one motherhood secret I have that keeps my sanity in this crazy world. My daughter’s hair is a haven of peace. There are nights when, curled up against Sagey’s sleeping form, I wash away the worries of my day immersed in the clean sweet spice of her hair, her even breathing bringing me slowly back to the place called normal. It gets me ready to close up for the night.

Sagey – her father and her sister – my family. They are my argument to my belief that this world gives us what we need for the long haul.

My people. They spoil me. They take care of themselves and of each other when I need to go. They understand that when I do, there’s something I need to do – for myself, for others. They make sure I get back and that when I do, I sometimes need fixing. They also understand that when am done with one thing, there’s something else I’d been keeping on the backburner.

And so four days into the new emperor’s reign, I set off early morning to move deeper into the island – past the coastline and on to the planes and marshes. Midday found me in the center of a stark, dark cell in the ruins of a mountain fortress in Barira, Maguindanao. I had crossed rivers and streams and hiked up an overgrown forest trail to get here. Lost in the warren of rooms held up by walls as thick as a foot in some places and interlaced by heavy metal grills that show up in the most unexpected places, a startled bat shows me the way to go. I come upon this room.

What was I looking for?

I had a suspicion as to what I was looking at: Two sturdy, rusted metal rings hanging just about out of reach on the ceiling. Which way should you be facing if someone hung you from up there – the door? Or the wall?

Jesus. Does it matter?

There was more. The adjoining room was decorated that way, too. The rooms neatly opened up to a spacious wash area. As buildings go, I couldn’t argue on the functionality of the design. A lot of wash areas.

A lot to wash.

As the horror of it threatened to overwhelm me, I wished I’d hacked off Sage’s hair and brought some with me. I desperately needed a spell to sanity.

Perhaps days later, I would find five million reasons why people would hang sturdy metal rings that way up there on the ceiling, but right about then I couldn’t think straight.

As if right on cue, my cellphone buzzed. LED washed the gloomy shadows as the phone vibrated an echo of my jangled nerves. It took me a moment to work out living the past in the present.

It was Sage, needing help to connect to her Dad as it was about time to set off and give moral support as her ate sang for an anime singing competition at the mall so many hours away. It was a good thing I got me a disposable sim card at a waystation where we had breakfast. My phone bill’s over limit again. I texted my girl to hang on while thanking the stars for pushing her lifeline my way right about then.

Hubby calls. Things are under control, and it was time for me to be setting for home. Cinderella needs a heads up, now and then. Cinderella’s line to the pumpkin patch is never broken. We did learn from Hansel and Gretel’s mistake, though wicked witches won’t ever understand that. They think my prince is my warden and wonder why one’s liberation requires unequivocal connection.

Not to worry. We have no need for witches when knights errand and queens understand that about my prince.

Gail on a secure number? A disposable one? Welcome then the barrage.

One said. “U r alive again. Care to research the connect: Tarlac, Singsingan and SOCOM?”

Rats. That’s an easy one. These enchanted woods have yet to addle my brain.

That’s about the present making mistakes of the past and the rest of the voting populace cheering him on as he does. That’s about the cacophony of power players realigning when the power base is weak and hopelessly blind – or, at least, needing Sarabia Optical primarily for aesthetic purposes. Impress my eyes and insult my mind, why don’t you? Haah. Missing the point again. I already touched that one. See previous article entitled Stars and Stripped. The military institution is not just the enumeration of its core values.

You think that because we choose to be stuck down here we don’t see? Hello. This country is more than just the layers of cordon sanitaire cutting up and handing out the political pie in this season of the yellow noose.

Enough said. When I say I want to keep a dignified silence, there’s no need really for me to be so loud about it, is there?

Yeah, I am sorry. Psychologists seldom get caught up in mass hysteria and people deadset at following their hearts and playing up to the crowd only listen to us when it is too late. While that way spells national tragedy most times, it is the way it is in this land we call our own. But lest the reader forgets, I said it first, okay?

Home. Time to ditch the sim, along with the items of curiosity that came in on it. Backburner.

Borrow your hair, Sage. . (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).