Landing an Airplane in a Forest of Fireflies
By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
I LOVE airplanes. As a young child, I would watch airplanes cruising in the blue sky, some quietly, some with cloud-like white tails. My uncle Opie, who was an Air Force pilot, used to write me letters, which my father read to me, about being with the clouds, about going over deep blue seas, about the roaring of engines, and about smooth landings. I believed everything that he said, including the promise to land his airplane on our roof!
I waited for the airplane to land on our roof for a long time, and he explained to my young mind, that he could not land on the roof because he was still on an errand for the government. My father who saw my disappointment, made me an airplane, out of galvanized iron sheets, which looked like a miniature of the airplane beside my uncle in the picture he sent us from the airbase. It was then that I wanted to become a pilot.
Every summer, he would visit us in Itogon, Benguet, and carry me on his shoulders through the mountain trails, picking sunflowers and wild flowers. He would tell me, that the sunflower is like his girlfriend in Anda, who was always facing the sun, even in the afternoon. After the hike, we would go the store, and he buys me lollipops, in various colors. It was always difficult for me to let him go, it was as if, I was less of a person, whenever he leaves, but also, I was more of a person because he made me experience the roar of engines by just looking at a passing airplane, and at the same time, made me taste the sweetness and the uniqueness of each wild flower growing in the mountains.
Back at the airbase, he would write to my father, to raise his children as good Christians. Perhaps, my father owes a lot to the Belgian sisters that we became good “Christians”, because it was an effort for him just to make the sign of the cross, and he was busy most of the time to think of Jesus. My father thinks that Jesus is family, and need not have special treatment, and he would raise his voice at him (Oh, Jesus!), like he did to all of us, if something went wrong, like when our vehicle landed on a ditch.
I do not exactly remember when the letters of Uncle Opie stopped, but I knew something was wrong when my father’s fists were hitting the wall so hard, a portion of the wall changed into blood. He shouted at all of us, blamed each of us, he blamed everyone including the lizard that dropped from the ceiling, he blamed Jesus, for Uncle Opie’s death. No one hated him for his outbursts, we understood that the physical pain just hinted on the enormous pain that pierced his heart.
I didn’t cry for Uncle Opie, I did not believe that he could die. He was just 29. He just got married. He had so much energy, so much blood rushing out when he pierced his thumb on a thorn, so how could he die of “lack of red blood cells”?
So I ran to the mountain trail and pleaded to the wild flowers, and to the sunflowers that he had so much love for. I waited for his airplane to land on our roof, to fulfill his promise, until I was told that we have to go to Pangasinan for the funeral. That was when I cried, that was when I thought the sky fell and smashed the airplane in mid-flight. I did not have the heart to look at the casket, my heart did not accept goodbyes. I want to remember his beauty, his purity, that lives in my heart. I gazed instead at the pink and white blooms of the “cadena de amor” by the window, where he used to sing to me, “Malinac lay Labi”, and where he repeatedly instructed me, how to land “your” airplane quietly and smoothly, especially in a forest of fireflies.
(Note: Landing an Airplane in a Forest of Fireflies won first prize in the Prose Category of the First Annual Competition of the Fundación Internacional de Literatura (Cuba-Holanda) with the theme Mourning – Editor)
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