It was here in Arayat, in the ancestral stone farm house opposite the high school that my grandfather was principal of, that some of my most enduring and pleasant memories of the Philippines were formed. Take, for instance, riding my tiny tricycle across the overgrown fields of the high school, and sitting amongst the tall stalks as dragonflies landed on my fingertips.
I remember finding a basket of hundreds of tiles in a close nook between the fence and a wall. The tiles were thin rectangles, probably half a centimetre wide and no longer than two, cast in hard white ceramic and glossed a soft sky-blue. Even then I knew that they were mosaic tiles. The basket the tiles were in was riddled through with feathers, and it looked more to me like the purloined nest of some unfortunate bird.
I said to myself, “I can do something with these,” so I took the basket of tiles into the house and started to play. The tiles, being tiny and having rounded corners, would not stack well, so I gave it up for lost and went to something more immediately gratifying. Maybe I went to play on the metal monstrosity we’d rigged up as a boat, or maybe I stood on the cover of the waterhole and fell in again.
But it just occured to me, lying in bed playing old Super Nintendo games, that I could still feel the tiles in my hands, and isn’t it strange that I remember those little blue tiles so clearly, just one plaything in the last half million?