We attribute so much power to experience. The more trials and hardships hurdled, the wiser we are. I guess that’s why we are respectful of wrinkly people whose hair has grown white, whose irises have become lighter, as if the light and color they came upon have siphoned life from their very eyes.
I sit on this lonely metal swing. I begin to scan my surroundings. The sky is slowly losing light. I notice that after every five minutes or so, the peculiar shade of periwinkle becomes darker. I kick the ground and soon the squeaking of the swing echoes through the empty playground.
This is not our subdivision, though for a significant period of my youth I believed otherwise. Four houses away from where I am is my grandparents’ home. When I was a child, I spent hot summer days here with my cousins.
My reverie is interrupted by two children running toward the vacant basketball court in front of my swing set. The sound of their rubber flip-flops hitting the hard cement is familiar. I remember how my cousins and I would also run here together, tossing a frisbee, sometimes playing tag. That seems to be ages ago. It is ages ago, I remind myself. The monkey bars set in the far corner is still the same, though I know for a fact that if I approach it, I would remember it as being bigger.
Now more kids are running toward the basketball court. They come equipped with a ball. The kid in a yellow jersey takes off his slippers and immediately attempts to shoot from the three-point line. He misses by a mile. Their laughter blends with the wind that combs through the tree branches and the continuous squeaking of my swing set. The kids in the basketball court become a flurry of zooming bodies, a display of kinetic energy that has become unfamiliar to me. I feel ancient.
I look back at the sky and try to imagine how much time has gone by since I sat here as a child, how things were easier back then, how easy it was to be happy. A while ago, I was talking to a family member whom I’ve witnessed grow into a young lady. She was contemplating on going to medical school. I wasn’t coy about anything. I told her I think it’d be great to try getting a job first, to see how it feels to actually earn her own money. I remember how it felt for me then. It was such a revelation, and I suddenly felt the weight of what was once, to me, just a platitude: “It’s hard to earn money.”
It really is.
When I was a child, I was constantly told that I was part of the future generation. That made me feel like I was part of this army, as if I held in my hand a fulfillment of a great foretold promise. I was the possibility.
Four years after graduating from college, and I have yet to see my bank account grow sufficiently to let me buy a second-hand car. If I add up the total amount of taxes I have paid since my inclusion in the workforce and keep it for myself, I can very well be able to afford a brand-new car. But laws are laws, right? And you have to give your country what you owe it. I only echo the cries of my fellowmen when I say it would be infinitely easier if I knew where the money all goes. The glaring truth, though, is that it’s never just me. It’s my colleagues, my parents, my friends—everyone who’s working pays taxes. Again, where does it all go?
The other day I was in the MRT and I noticed a man wearing what seemed to be a janitor’s uniform. It was in a tacky green color that, I imagine, would make him stand out in a crowd, whether he meant to or not. I wondered how it would feel like to be him, to wake up in the morning knowing that the day would be all about bleach, mopping the floors, and cleaning the toilets. No matter, I thought, this man does an honest day’s work. And in that moment, I felt for him. I was proud of him. He’s exactly the kind of man who puts corrupt, greedy, thieving government officials to shame, to hell and then back to hell again.
After that thought came this sinking feeling: It’s all fleeting, though, for how can the world reward this man for his honest work and put behind bars those who gobble up billions of taxpayer money like so many cookies in a jar? And I don’t smell justice, not with how slow justice is served in this country, not even if the whole nation knows what the real score is, which it does.
This is now the part where we put our faith in the system, where we leave it to due process. But isn’t this the same faith I give along with my taxes? The hope and trust we now give to the system, isn’t it the same hope and trust we’ve given to those who decide how to spend taxpayer money? And don’t we just fall into this cycle of trusting and being disappointed, and trusting yet again?
Maybe for some, enough is enough. Maybe they are the ones who’d rather not pay taxes, the ones we taxpayers can’t blame at all for not wanting to hope and trust, only to be disappointed once more. It’s their experience that has taught them that it’s better to leave the cycle altogether. But what about us left in the cycle? Us who continue to churn out faith, hope, and trust—as if we were innocent children with dreams that have yet to be broken? We give so much power to experience, but what about innocence?
When I sat on this lonely metal swing, instinctively I trusted it to carry my weight. I trusted its rusty hinges and chains and took the leap of faith that I wouldn’t hit the ground butt first. So far, it has not disappointed.
The squeaking of my metal swing is drowned once more by the children’s laughter. The same kid in the yellow jersey is in possession of the ball again. I watch him as he zooms to the three-point line and shoots the ball. There is a moment of silence, and then screams of joy. And in the air, the sense of triumph is palpable.