I have loved you once… long ago, and now you do not remember anymore. In those days I was a goddess – beautiful and powerful. I was the shepherd of the countless stars that gave beauty to the cosmos. Now there is only me, and amid all the other realities, amongst all the other possibilities, amongst the countless worlds with creatures that have thrown themselves before me – to love and cherish me forever – I have chosen to love you. But as mortality goes, you have died and have reincarnated more than many times all over, and through the boundaries of time I have reached out to you, though you have often slipped away.
I am tired. I am nearing my end. The time of my kind has expired, but I make one more effort to reach out to you, to love you once again before I go. There is one more chance, a possibility to catch up with you, and maybe this time, to eventually hold you.
I have felt your sadness from far across time and space. I have heard you weep. Your loss is my loss too. Fate is such a cruel storyteller, and for that my story is a sad one written with all the anguish placed within my heart. Yes, I will come to you, my beloved, because I have heard your music across the impossible. It will pull me to you. It will pull me to your embrace and your warm kiss. I think that is all that I can have before I go – just one kiss – and after that, all will be a memory.
Yes… there it is – your melody! Pull me closer! I feel you now… I feel you now.
His music echoed along the halls of time, trying to hold on to the past, to where once, he was a gallant balladeer whose name was renowned all over the world.
Santiago strummed his guitar, playing a tune he created long ago that was heard by the world. The worn-out Kremonia Solea had loose knots, but in his hands, it sounded perfect. He hummed with the tunes. He won many awards for this music that he composed, but that was long ago, twenty years to the date, and as he played on the sidewalks of the Quiapo church, his memory reached out to the past again. The notes lingered in the air. At the nearness of his playing, it was all clear, but soon it all faded with the chaos of busy streets. He was hardly noticed against the backdrop of screaming jeepneys and loudmouth hawkers in a plaza that was turned into a marketplace. People easily forget, and for those who passed by, Santiago was but an impoverished forty-year-old man who begged on the streets and played tunes of loneliness.
The sadness resurfaced with every strum. Santiago lost his family in an accident when they were on their way to his concert. It was the first time he would see them after years of traveling the world. He played in one of the most renowned theaters in the world – the Palau de la Música Catalana in Spain, and though he saw three empty chairs on the front row, he carried on knowing only of their deaths soon after. Father. Mother. Sister. He cried. He died. And the music died with him that day. Now he plays on the streets to forget because at least the noise of Manila would drown the melody of his music and he would lose himself amongst the people who found him insignificant.
Her steps were light like she was walking on air, and her graceful movement was one that supposedly attracted attention. But no one noticed her. She was invisible – like air – and she stood in front of Santiago, unblinking, smiling, listening to the bittersweet melody that everyone else ignored.
After the show, she clapped, and only then did the maestro realize that he had an audience.
“Can you play another one?” asked the beautiful woman who had instantly captivated Santiago.
He swore that he had seen her before – but where? She looked so familiar, in fact, he somehow knew her. He couldn’t resist her request, and thus he played some more, but this time the music wasn’t empty, rather it was full of life, and at that moment the world stood still, and it listened to the bittersweet melody of a time long forgotten. To Santiago, it seemed like he played a full concerto in front of a fabulous audience, and to the woman, it seemed like an eternity. She didn’t want him to stop, but like time, she had to move on, so the concert ended and everything went back to the way it was before.
Santiago looked up to her and said, “I have never played like that in years! Who are you? Do we know each other?”
The woman smiled and replied, “Hello, my beloved. You do not remember me, at least in this lifetime, but we were lovers ages ago. My name is Tala. I am your goddess and I am dying.”
I remember the times of long ago when the age was young and the pantheons thrived with our stories eternal. Some of the gods were very arrogant. Some of us were just cruel. I understood this to be so because of the power that we possessed. We held the universe in the palm of our hands and the mortals venerated us for fear and awe. We rewarded their veneration. We rewarded their suffering. They fed us with their prayers and their veneration made us all the more powerful – some of us, even more arrogant.
We destroyed the universe and reshaped it many times. How many mortals have perished only to be reborn again? How many have known only oblivion? I do not know the answer to all of this. I am only privy to the death of stars for I am their keeper. I do know for a fact that rebirth can be such a burden and that what essence was left of a star’s death can be the life of something else in the universe. The pain of that birthing, the chaos that a star suffers only to give life to worlds! Such a thing only shows impossible love – as is my feelings for you – and yet soon all of it will cease and only memories will pass on. As such, I am the last to linger, for all of the gods have gone. No one cares anymore. No one prays to us. No one needs us. Our mythology slowly fades away in your modern world of science and logic. I only exist for the moment because I need to see you want last time. My love for you keeps me alive, that and your promise of long ago, when the age was young and we were happy, that you would write me music as a majestic offering for your goddess. Yes, the thought of your music has kept me alive for such is music in the soul of the cosmos. If you listen very closely you will hear the melody of the stars. They sing their lonely songs in a vast and empty theater.
My father, Bathala, once told me that he pitied you, mortals. Amid your capacity to do great things you chose to squander the gifts that have been given to you. Maybe that was how you were created, filled with greatness yet flawed in every way. But I argued that you were one of the few who turned the other way, who instead of war wanted peace, and who chose the pen rather than the sword. He told me otherwise, but I knew he was wrong about you. You are not like everyone else.
I do not know if in the end your kind will thrive or destroy yourselves. I cannot predict your future. All I know is that I am at the end of my time and that your music will be the last that I will hear. I will bring it to wherever I am going, or if not and I exist no longer, I hope your song will echo my passing across the universe.
You are near. That is good. I will finally see you again, now, here, and maybe it all be worth the long while.
The sound of the surf echoed memories of a time when the gods walked the earth and were fervently revered. Tala and Santiago stood by the bay of Manila listening to the sound of the sea. The surf washed up many things. The goddess looked at the things that were the garbage of men the floated to shore and sighed deeply.
“The ocean is dying too. Like the gods, the ocean will be long forgotten.”
“You speak in riddles,” said Santiago scratching his head.
“Do you know that everything is connected? If what is left of nature dies, the world dies with it. We, the gods, are the first to go. Soon many things will also fade away. All things are connected. Remember that.”
“An ideology worth noting, but I’m not Buddhist.”
“Maybe you aren’t,” said Tala dismissing the sarcasm, “But that ideology extends to us gods for we were the first to rule. Do not be like us. We depended on prayers to feed us yet were too proud to give back to those who prayed to us. In return, they turned from us and have forgotten us. And that was our doom.”
Santigo fell silent. The words of the beautiful woman bore much weight that reflected everything that had been going on in the world: the change in the weather, the hate, and the apathy. After a moment of contemplation, he nodded and agreed with Tala’s perception.
“Do you remember your youth, Santiago? Do you not remember your dreams? I was there. We were friends, and for a time during your life as a musician, we were lovers. I was your muse… your star.”
Santiago held his breath. The dream – his dreams! That’s where he saw her. She was his maiden, his muse, the illustration of the goddess Tala in his old elementary literature book that he ripped off and pinned on the wall of his room. She was his muse. His grief made him forget…
“But I am here now. This is the end of our cycle. Should you return to your music, will you promise me that you will write songs about me, about the gods that have gone from this world and forever forgotten?”
“Promise me. I demand it! The last a goddess shall ever ask of a mortal.”
Santiago nodded and fell silent.
“We are a myth – folklore – legend!,” continued Tala after a pause, “We are forever gone, save for the short introductions and twisted tales in your modern literature, and only the most famous of us, whose names survived in the tongues of old demented seers, are left in the retelling of our legends. But the truth is there is no more reverence, no whispered prayer or sacrifice that would feed us. There were once many of us, as our existence was dependent on mortal prayers, but our stories, revised and renewed, will pass to form new myths, and soon the old will be forgotten forever.”
Santiago found himself crying. He remembered his mother, his father, his sister, and the rental car that was flattened after the accident. He remembered the times he was bullied in high school because he was frail and wore glasses. He remembered his grandmother who told him stories at night. He remembered his cat Pepito that was run over by a car. He remembered them all gone.
“Do not waste your life, my love,” said Tala with much affection. “It is alright that you have forgotten me, but do not forget who you are and spoil the memories of those who have gone before you. Your music must live on. You must live on! This will be our memorial of an age that has ceased to exist. Remember us in your music, Santiago – remember me.”
Tala lifted Santiago’s face and she kissed him on the lips as she did so before, when he was young and she was happy ages ago, in his dreams where she was his muse, in his room at the old house, and like the mist of yesteryear, Tala slowly vanished and died.
Santiago stared at the space in front of him. For a moment, the world became a dark and brooding place devoid of life. For a moment he stood in an empty wasteland with cracked earth beneath his feet. For a moment there was nothing. And then a melody came to mind that was followed by a hum. The tears stopped falling. The sound of her voice rang in his ear and the words that she left. Remember us. Remember me. We – the gods!
In that moment of emptiness, Santiago lifted his guitar and strummed. His fingers played sweet melodies that defied the absence of hope – that filled an empty soul. His music was magic and it breathed new life into an empty world. Soon, hope returned. In the chambers of his memories, Tala’s voice came back and said “Mahal kita” (I love you).
Chaos returned. Reality began anew. Santiago was back, but with his hope restored and confidence renewed, he would build his life again. He looked back at the memory of it all, and finally, after a long while, he moved on.