Sunshine in Shadow
By Melissa Aguto as published in Bandillo Batanes
(Sunshine in Shadow is an award winning essay
of Melissa Aguto at Saint Mary's High School. Melissa is the daughter
of Ramon and Lerma Aguto of Kitchener, Ontario. This essay was originally
published in the Ivatan Gazette, Canada, June 30, 1999)
The only time that bittersweet tears ever came to my eyes was on a blistering
hot 1994 summer day, the day my family and I took a plane to Manila, the
capital city of the Philippines.
A 16-hour flight was not exactly the way I wanted to spend the beginning
of my vacation, but my older brother and I found ways to kill the time.
Taking candid shots with our camcorder quickly became a favorite, even
if every five minutes we heard, "Put that camera away!"
The dryness of the cabin had my throat feeling like a dessert and my thirst
was raging. But I was sure that if I heard, "Would you like a beverage,
Miss?" from one more attendant, I would scream.
Halfway through the flight, Gary, my partner in camcorder crime, also
fell asleep. I tried to nap; however, those gauss-like pillows did nothing
for me except be an excellent conductor of static electricity. While valiantly
trying to calm my unruly hair, I wondered just what would keep me amused
during my visit to the Philippines. We would be staying on Batan Island,
an Island smaller than Kitchener located as far as I can be from the mainland.
My pre-adolescent attitude helped in keeping the smug half-smile on my
face, as my family members woke up to the sight of a camera lens staring
at them, like a hunter watching its prey. Fortunately for them, we were
already descending. It wasn't the first time my Canadian-born blood had
ever visited the country of my roots, but it would be the first time I
would be seeing it through the stubborn eyes of 11-year old defiance.
Upon arrival in the sticky, humid toaster oven they call Manila, we immediately
boarded a timid propeller plane that would take us to the island. I doubt
that this tin can with wings could carry the 50 passengers all the way
to the island. Reluctantly, I followed my family up the narrow, metal
The low ceiling and small seats made our last flight feel like First Class.
However, all criticizing thoughts left my mind as the plane ascended gracefully
into the sky like a baby eagle taking its first majestic flight.
The view from my window was unforgettable. While misty clouds gave way
to bright sunshine and clear, blue-green ocean. To my increasing wonderment,
I spotted few white marine animals that sliced through the dark-blue abyss
like shooting stars through a clear night sky. When we passed over a cratered
island, sprinkled randomly with dark -green vegetation, my father told
me that it was the ghost of a former eruption and I tingled in wide-eyed
My eyes did not leave the window the entire time and the voice of the
captain gave me quite a start. "We will be landing at Basco Airport momentarily.
Thank you for flying Philippine Airlines." Suddenly, I could not wait
to set foot on the tropical paradise, untouched by first-world technology.
The plane shook as we descended through milky-white clouds and emerged
to the brilliant sunshine that beamed down upon tiny Batan Island. We
The aircraft slowly rolled to stop, close to the small, brick building
that served as the Basco Airport Terminal. A chained-linked fence that
bordered the property separated us from our waiting friends and relatives.
With sweat already beginning to appear on my forehead, I glanced up and
saw a sight I will remember for all time - my grandparents standing on
the other side of the fence. They saw us and the weariness in their eyes
departed, only to be replaced by a radiant joy that shone like the sun
never will. I looked into the eyes of my grandmother, a healthy 90 year
old and not a word was spoken as she put a trembling hand through one
of the holes of the fence. I looked down at the hand that has worked for
a decade to bring up eight children, one of them, my mother. I clasped
my hand around hers and slowly bent my forehead down to touch the back
of her hand - a custom in the Philippines, as a sign of respect to one's
I straightened up and again looked into eyes that had seen more that I
ever will, I felt hot tears spring into my eyes as a smile found its way
across the sagging skin and deep grooves of my grandmother's face. I then
realized that it could very well be the last time that I would ever see
her again. At the same time I was fighting back these tears of sorrow,
I felt the corners of my mouth tugging upwards. I might have been able
to struggle those tears back, but my grandmother's beaming at me was just
too much. I gave in to the urge and returned a smile that was much like